Summary: An All Saints’ Sunday sermon: we honor the saints who have gone before us by following their example and seeking Christ’s call.
Years ago on a TV show, a guest appeared that was a body builder. He entered the stage with his huge muscular body, and the crowd went crazy as the body builder began to flex his muscles and show his power. The first question asked of him was this: “What do you use all those muscles for?” Without answering, the body builder again began flexing his muscles while the crowd cheered wildly.
A second time, the question was asked, “What do you do with those muscles?” Again, the body builder flexed his muscles and the crowd became almost ecstatic. After asking a third time, “What do you do with all those muscles?” the body builder just sat in silence. He had no answers. The man was all power but his power had no purpose other than to show off and bring attention to himself.
For something to have meaning, it must have purpose. We easily associate the meaning of Lazarus’ life with his walk out of the tomb after being dead four days; and how Jesus’ miraculous work in Bethany helped show his close association with God the Father. But Lazarus’ life and the events surrounding Lazarus’ death and Jesus’ miracle in raising Lazarus from the dead have significance far beyond that single moment. Jesus wasn’t just flexing his muscles in a fancy show for the grieving crowd; he was showing us how to grieve, but also how to live.
Today, we mark All Saints’ Day; a day of high celebration in which we traditionally commemorate all the saints, known and unknown, who are joined with God eternally. But this is also a time when we as a Christian community remember the departed faithful who are close to us. We cannot engage in such remembering without acknowledging the feeling of grief, perhaps profound grief, that comes as we recall the friends and family who are no longer with us here. This is one of the things that is important about the story of Lazarus’ death. This is one of the few places in the Gospels where there is a deep show of grief from Jesus. We are told three times that Jesus was “deeply moved” or that he wept. In classical Greek, the usual usage for what is translated here as “deeply moved” is that of a horse snorting. With this in mind, we can only assume that Jesus was seized by such deep emotion that he let out a great involuntary groan from the depths of his heart. Jesus had lost his friend to death, and death is a difficult thing for those of us left in its wake.
When my grandfather passed away 10 years ago, I was a sophomore in college. I returned to school after his funeral and the next day I went to the Wesley Fellowship. The campus minister, aware of my recent loss, approached me and putting his hands on my shoulders, he asked how I was doing. Tears welled up in my eyes, but as I tried to choke them back, he looked and me and said, “It’s okay to cry.” And so I did. Jesus wept when his friend died. We, too, can weep when loved ones die. Yet even as we grieve, we can continue giving meaning and purpose to the lives of those who have gone. We can help them live on by honoring the impact that so many have in our lives. Isn’t that what we celebrate on All Saints’ Day; the lives of those who have inspired us in some special way? What better way to help them live on than by living out that inspiration in our own lives.
Our thoughts of saints often take us to the disciples or early church fathers; Saint Matthew, Saint John, Saint Augustine. Yet, I firmly believe that there are many more saints in this world; toiling away daily, even when their work goes unnoticed. When I think of a saint, the first thing that comes to mind is someone who devotes her life to following and serving Christ, and who inspires others to do the same. How many such people have we had in our lives? We can imagine them even now. As many of you are aware, my grandmother died recently. When my grandmother’s mind began to fail her a few months ago, she thought everyday was Sunday. And each day, she would get up and lay out her dress clothes to go to church. This was a mark of who she was. She was a devout Christian; her apartment was full of Bibles and devotionals and notes from her time studying the Scriptures. She offered her time and her resources to the church and to God’s causes in the most generous of ways; unlike anyone I have ever known. She followed Christ with her whole life, and she inspired me to do the same. She was a saint, and my life is better because she was a part of it. So the question for me now is how will I honor her life through my own living? This is the question for all of us. How will we honor the saints who have gone before us?