Many churches around the world will be celebrating All Saints Day tomorrow. On All Saints Sunday we remember loved ones who have died this past year. We know the grief that Mary, Martha, and even Jesus feel at the death of their friend and family member Lazarus. We have seen the reality of living in the shadow of death.
We also know of the little deaths that take place every day. We know the daily disappointments, the betrayal of a friend, a failure at work, a difficult relationship, the loneliness and pain of one longing for something more from life. When we watch tv, listen to the radio, surf the web or read the paper we see reminders that our world is nothing like the Kingdom of God. We see poverty, injustice, disease and despair all around. We feel like there is nothing we can do to make things better.
I was talking with a friend recently about our first experiences with death. He had a loved one die recently and he was wondering what he should tell his kids (8 years old and 5 years old). I told him that I remember saying a prayer with my parents every night. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
I found comfort praying that prayer with my parents. I knew my parents would protect me from anything bad that could happen to me. It did not occur to me until I started to pray with my children before bedtime that there may be problems with this prayer.
When my son was younger he got a stuffed animal of a bunny with her hands folded. When you squeezed her hands together a similar prayer was said. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Angles watch me through this night, till I wake to morning light.
I began to wonder, does this newer prayer simply reflect our inability to comfortably talk about death? Is church one of the few places in our world where it is okay to talk about death?
All Saints Sunday is not a large funeral service but we do remember the ones who have been given power over death. In the Gospel of St. John we read about Jesus bringing a man back to life. Jesus’ best friend Lazarus. It is an interesting story because Jesus was told that Lazarus was sick and about to die. Instead of rushing to his side Jesus makes his way to Lazarus but he is too late. Lazarus had been dead for days.
But Jesus knew that death was not hold Lazarus. Jesus rolls the stone away and yells “Lazarus Come out!!!” and Lazarus emerges from the tomb a new man.
Death does not have a hold on our lives. We all can give witness to the trustworthiness of the promises made to every one of us that God will one day bring to an end the reign of death, cause mourning and suffering to cease, and wipe every tear from our eyes.
This is the type of stuff we hear about at Easter not in November. But we talk about it now because it is such an important thing in our lives. To know and trust that no matter what happens to us in life or in death, we have the promise that God is with us and that God loves each and every one of us.
When we are able to truly embrace Gods love for us something inside of us changes.
First, death no longer terrifies us. Because we know that God loves us for who we are we can look even death in the eye and not blink. Sometimes we are afraid of what God thinks. We may think that God doesn’t love us because we are too old, or young, fat or skinny, we are told that God doesn’t love us because we are gay or because of the color of our skin. The reality is that God loves each and every one of us!! It doesn’t matter what you look like, how old you are or if you are gay or straight. God loves you for you and God has promised you salvation.
Even though we may morn the death of our loved ones, we can also celebrate their triumph, their victory, as they now rest from their labors and live with Christ in glory.
Second, the change we may find in our life when we embrace Gods love is that life no longer terrifies. God blesses us with gifts and calls us to use our hands and feet in the world to spread Gods word to everyone. We are all made holy and we are all given a purpose.
I love that on All Saints Sunday we remember those who have died during the past year. But I also love to celebrate the saints who are still here today. Saints are not only those persons in the Bible or Church history who did great things. Nor are Saints only those who died for the faith. Saints are not even only those who are of such great moral courage, kindness or discipline that they set examples for the rest of us. Rather, saints are also all those who have been baptized into Christ.
So we remember those who have died this past year, those who have influenced our lives and who are now set apart. But we also celebrate the saints that continue to make an impact on this world, the saints that continue to be the hands and feet of God in this world and the saint that teach us and others who to be a blessed people of God.
Therefore, simply because God has set us apart and called us “saints” in baptism we have God’s promise that God will use us – our talents, abilities, interests – our whole lives! This not only gives our lives meaning but also conveys tremendous significance upon our daily routine, as all of our roles – parent, spouse, child, citizen, employer, employee, co-worker, volunteer, friend, and so many others – become the places we take our stand as God’s co-workers and partners to do, literally, holy work; work, that is, that God has set apart and called holy because it is done by holy people.