A sermon preached by the Reverend Michael Anderson Bullock
at St. Philip’s, Easthampton, Massachusetts,
on 4 November 2018 [All Saints Sunday]:
Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44
All the Saints and Lazarus, Too

Today’s gospel ends with Jesus calling Lazarus out from the grave: “Lazarus, come out!”  And then the Lord instructs those present to “unbind” Lazarus from his grave clothes and “let him go.”* Where do you think Lazarus went?

All Saints: What’s the message?  What’s the meaning of this occasion?  Why do the faithful pay attention to this event?  Why bother?  What’s all the fuss about?

From the perspective of our culture and society, the answer to these questions is easy.  What matters about All Saints is the night before.  Hallowe’en is a 9 billion dollar economic machine, second only to Christmas.  The challenging question is: Do followers of Jesus have anything more to say about this?

One way I have been speaking to you about the meaning and place of All Saints is this: All Saints is what happens when we take Easter seriously.  Of course, this raises another question: What is it about Easter that generates All Saints?

Clearly, the answer concerning the place of All Saints in the life of faith cannot fit on a bumper sticker; but risking oversimplifying, what I want to do on this All Saints Sunday resembles those step-by-step directions you can get from a “GPS” search: You know, when we want to know how to get from where we are to where we need to be.

I use my smartphone’s  “Google Maps” often to find my way around here.  I usually speak my destination into that gadget, and quickly my destination pops up, with a big blue button, labeled “Directions,” at the bottom.  Once I touch that button, I am on my way with the reassuring voice directing me at every turn.

Most of the time, I am content with taking the step-by-step directions.  Yet, there are some times when I want to know where I am and see the big picture of the whole trip.  On the “GPS” app, I can get a listing of written, step-by-step directions that show my entire trip, from beginning to end.  This is what I’d like to do in terms of getting from Easter to All Saints.  I want to identify the “turns” we need to take on this trip; but I also want to see the whole All Saints trip, as well.  So, here we go.

There are lots of directional steps (call them “turns”) that come first in our journey (such as all those contained in the Old Testament), but I am going to begin our All Saints trip with Christmas and with the reality of “Emmanuel.” Christmas is about Emmanuel: that is, “God with us;” and this is our first sign post along the route.

Christmas’s essential message stems from God’s loving nature and life.  This is to say that we are given what life with God is like in fully human terms.  The God-life on our own terms; the God-life in our midst:  Jesus is the visible face of God.This means that God is not some abstraction or some good idea or some weak-kneed compensation for the demands of life.  No, God is the loving source of life whose presence with us never ends –especially when fear and death emerge.  That the Creator of all that is would take on the demands of human life so that humanity might glimpse and absorb the reality of divine life is Christmas’s poignant and radical message.  As such, Christmas and Emmanuel are our first “turn” on our God-life trip.

The second “turn” entails growing with Jesus and following Jesus in this Emmanuel reality.  This part of our trip demonstrates both what God intends for us to be and do.  But of course, this God-life orientation creates friction – friction within us and friction with the world.  As we all know from personal experience, it is hard for us to allow God to be at our centers; and even the best of us resist at crucial points.  When the pressure of the resistance gets to be too much, we resort to replacing God, ultimately using fear’s definitive weapon, death.

And so, we killed Emmanuel, thinking that that would relieve the pressure of dealing with God at the center.  But no …

… the love of God for us all is unrelenting.  Not even our fearful reliance on death can keep the Holy One at bay.  And so, the third “turn” in our faith journey is (as we are wont to say): “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.”

In rising from the dead, the Son of God (Emmanuel: God with us) reveals that the Creator’s love is stronger than death, that holy love runs deeper than death’s resistance.  In that vision of what is really real, we are called to “awaken to” (that’s what “resurrection” means) – we are called to “awaken to” what life with God is like and the Good News is that God is with us still – no matter what.

In the wake of such an “awakening” from our fearful sleep, the next “turn” we find brings us to encounter our need to respond to what we have seen in Jesus, risen and glorified.  Pentecost, the time when the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to those who are “awakened to” life with God at the center – Pentecost sets us on the transformational pathway that culminates in All Saints.

You see, this is the last turn; and its starts the longest leg of our traveled road.  I say this because Easter, Christ’s resurrection, contains two messages.  The first has to do with what God has done in and through his Son, Jesus.  Jesus’ rising from the dead cracks open reality itself to reveal the “death of death.”  As St. Paul proclaims: Nothing shall ever separate us from the love of God.  Good News!  Yet, there is another aspect to resurrection because Easter is not just about Jesus.  It’s about what God intends for us to be.

Jesus’ rising identifies not only what is really real about life with God; it also shows us who and what we are to be in our lives and in the life of the world.  This is to say that what we see in the Risen One is what God intends to see in us all.

Therefore (and here is the direct connection between Easter and All Saints), as we continue to grow – step-by-step – into the likeness of the resurrected Jesus, we continue to become God’s saints.  We continue to work on being bearers of the God-life – all of us.  This in not only our legacy as baptized followers of Jesus; this is also our job.

Our Orthodox brothers and sisters call this movement, this “Jesus Movement,” theosis.  Our own language might refer to Easter’s transforming revelation n terms of becoming more Christ-like.  In any event, Easter reveals what life with God is like and what that holy, God-life has to do with us.  For following Jesus and sharing in the life of Jesus brings us to our trip’s destination, where we not only share the light of God’s Christ; we willingly and with great joy reflect that light in the world.

In terms of theosis, in terms of becoming more and more Christ-like, in terms of being able to take to heart the promises of God, we are all at different points, spread out all along this roadway.  There are some who are way ahead of us in terms of being close to the destination and in their holy reflection of the God-life.  There are many who are just beginning the journey.  Some have yet to begin in earnest.  The vast majority of us are in-between.  In any event there is a “caravan” of folks on this road, and they accompany one another, moving toward the border that separates the wholeness of the God-life and from the brokenness and incomplete life the world provides.  The point is that those who do travel this road are all God’s saints – known and unknown.

This traveled road is not only the call and purpose of our faithful lives.  All Saints is also the destination and the legacy we are given as God’s people – no matter what.

So, keep the “GPS” of faith at hand; trust it; and always know that we are not alone, not on our own as we travel.  For we travel with a purpose: To be what God created us to be and to get from where we are to where our hearts and souls need to be.  And keep your eye out for Lazarus.  It’s where he’s going too. Thanks be to God.  Amen.

* John 11:43-44