November 7th, 2021 – Wipe Away Tears

Sermon for All Saints Day, 2021, Random Lake                                           11/7/21


Text: Isaiah 25:6-9, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44

Introduction.    Not everyone cries at a funeral.  Tears of grief may precede the death of a loved one and then follow for many months years in private. One grieving mother fought back tears when she walked by the cereal display at the grocery story.  Her teenaged son, who died in a car crash, always ate a certain cereal when he came home from school. But she didn’t cry at the funeral, surrounded by friends and people of faith.

In Albert Camus’ novel, The Stranger, a young man with flat emotions drifted through life, without purpose or meaning.  In a bazaar incident, blinded by the sun, he accidently killed a man on the beach.  There was no evidence of intentional murder presented at his trial, but he was convicted and condemned to death “for not crying at his mother’s funeral.”  It was absurd. Believers cry because they care deeply for those close to them and even for others in their time of trial.  During this pandemic we have often wept with persons struck in the midst of their work or family life by an unseen virus.  The tears of survivors touch our hearts. On this All Saints Sunday, it is our good fortune to see our Lord Jesus in the midst of his encounter with the tears of his friends.  He both shares their sorrow and also opens the way to the time when God’s people will no longer be deeply disturbed by death; when God will WIPE AWAY TEARS.

I           John’s account of Lazarus’ death and Jesus’ response is compelling.

It starts with the simple statement: “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and Martha.”  Yet, this “certain man” turns out to be, with his sisters, a close friend.  So, the sisters sent a desperate message to Jesus on the far side of the Jordan: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  Jesus was not in a hurry to respond.  He announced that this illness would not lead to death but to glory. The disciples breathed a sigh of relief, for they feared that traveling as close to Jerusalem as Bethany would be dangerous.However, after two days, Jesus announced that Lazarus had “fallen asleep,” and it is time to wake him up.  By the time Jesus reached Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days.  Jesus missed the funeral and burial.  Martha is not thrilled to see Jesus.  Her voice comes with an accusatory tone: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Mary echoes the same sentiment.

            No one is weeping at this point.  In fact, Jesus has announced to Martha:

“I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.”  No one is denying that, but when your friend and brother is ripped from you, there is great pain and loss.  So, when Mary arrived to repeat the words of her sister, she knelt at Jesus’ feet weeping, “and the Jews who came with her were also weeping.”

            Caught up in all this emotion, Jesus “was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.  He said, ‘Where have you laid him?  They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’”  At this point, John reports that “Jesus began to weep.”  Was he weeping at the loss of his friend or in sympathy with Mary and Martha?  Who knows?  But we do know that The Word of God made flesh to dwell among us shares fully in the human experience of grief.

            Then, Jesus, “again greatly disturbed, “ came to the tomb.  Here is where all had to catch their breath, not because of the odor of a man buried for four days, but because Jesus in breath-taking majesty says: “Lazarus, come out!”

            Martha’s realistic warning of the smell did not deter him.  Jesus reminded her: “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God.”  After they rolled away the stone from the tomb, Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me….When he said this he said with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth.  Jesus said, to them, “Unbind him and let him go.”

II.         You and I definitely need to hear this good news today.  For some of us, All Saints Day is a reminder of the many people we know, even in our own families, who have died in Christ.  It’s personal to think of Jesus’ power.  We have lost parents, partners, friends, neighbors, and persons we worked with over the years.

            Mary’s and my nearest neighbor, who welcomed us a few years ago, died this year.  He was a great guy. Others spoke highly of him, before we moved in.  He died after a long and painful illness.  Thank God that Jesus demonstrated God’s power over death. 

            Another neighbor caught me outside watering the plants and wanted to talk about her mother who just entered hospice.  She is a fellow Lutheran of a different denomination, and she wanted to keep her thinking about death and resurrection straight.  She had good ideas, but needed assurance and affirmation.  For the death of any person close to us, no matter our faith, can make us, like Jesus, “deeply disturbed.”

            If you widen the lens to include the 725 thousand citizens who have died just from COVID-19 and its variants, just in our country, you can imagine the tears shed beyond the many stories we have seen on television this past year.  Of course, we can’t possibly grasp the emotional trials of those who have lost people to all forms of violence, not to mention natural causes.  But Jesus has carved a path through every grief.

            Our Lord faced death squarely for us in all of its reality.  He knows the sorrows and feels the pains of all of us humans.  By his own death and resurrection, he has given us assurance of a magnificent future.

III.        To underscore John’s account, we welcome the readings for All Saints Day.  The great vision in Isaiah 25 whets our appetite for the feast of life that the Lord has prepared for us.  It’s a banquet for “all peoples, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines strained clear…”  Isaiah proclaims:

And he will destroy on this mountain [where all will be gathered] the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces. And let’s not forget the powerful witness of the book of Revelation.  The writer saw a new heaven and a new earth where everything is made right.  We listen carefully and with great anticipation, as we hear a loud voice from the throne of God saying,

See, the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them; they will be his people, and God himself with be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…

Conclusion                  This year St. Paul’s has spent a lot of time thinking about and planning to care for the cemetery on the hill, where Ascension Day is celebrated. I am sure that many of you know people who have been buried there over the 150 plus years of this congregation.  God has wiped away a lot of tears.  Many of you and other members of the congregation plan to be buried there in times of loss.  It is comforting to know that the Lord will wipe away tears. My parents are buried in Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.  It is like a marble city—all the graves in crypts above ground.   I recall visiting the Erickson family tomb on O Street in the final resting place for many saints.  I hadn’t been there for years and was not prepared for the grief that welled-up within me and brought on a flood of tears.  I too live in the hope and certainty that for all of us, God will WIPE AWAY TEARS.

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