Of all three years of the lectionary cycle, this year’s All Saints readings have the most tears. Isaiah and Revelation look forward to the day when God will wipe away all tears; in John’s gospel, Jesus weeps along with Mary and all the gathered mourners before he demonstrates his power over death. On All Saints Day we celebrate the victory won for all the faithful dead, but we grieve for our beloved dead as well, knowing that God honors our tears. We bring our grief to the table and find there a foretaste of Isaiah’s feast to come.
Readings and Psalm
- Isaiah 25:6-9
The banquet of the Lord
- Psalm 24
They shall receive blessing from the God of their salvation. (Ps. 24:5)
- Revelation 21:1-6a
A new heaven and a new earth
- John 11:32-44
The raising of Lazarus
Unbinding the Living
On All Saints Sunday we remember loved ones who have been laid in the tomb. We know the acute grief of Mary, Martha, and Jesus. We know the reality of death that lies so close. We know that at any moment the phone call could come with news we dread. We live forever in the shadow of death.
At the same time, we also know the little deaths that take place every day. We know the daily disappointments, the betrayal of a friend, a failure at work, a difficult and tumultuous marriage, the loneliness and pain of one longing for something more from life. Beyond that there are the near-constant reminders that much of this world is far from God’s kingdom. How easy it is to look and see poverty and injustice, disease and despair all around. Like Lazarus, we are bound tightly in death’s clothes: grief, disappointment, hopelessness.
Yet Jesus speaks the last word for us: “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44). This promise is bursting with resurrecting life. This word is spoken by the one who became human and was put in a tomb, but broke through the pervasive stench of death. In the waters of the font, we hear our God speak this word to us. Lifting us out of the waters, God frees us from the binding rags of death and dresses us in the royal clothing of Christ. At the table, we feast with the God in whom we have waited, the God who swallows up death forever. The last word is not death, but life as a beloved child of God.
Clothed in the righteousness of Christ, God’s people are called forth from the grave. Fellow saints rush forward to remove the rotting grave clothes. Together the people of God celebrate the hope and promise of resurrection, rising each new day to joyfully serve in the name of the one who is beyond death, Jesus our Savior.