All Saints Sunday
Jesus gets there too late. He gets to Lazarus too late. “Lord,” Mary says—this is Lazarus’s sister Mary—she says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32). If only Jesus got there in time, a week earlier, then he would have been able to lay his hands on Lazarus and heal him of his sickness, this sickness that took the life of his friend. The timing wasn’t right. Jesus should have got there sooner, much earlier.
What do we do about the time? We are bound up by time. Our lives are about time—the time it takes to grow comfortable with who you are, to learn how you think about things, how you feel; the time it takes to make friends, to trust someone; the time it takes to heal, to let wounds heal into scars; the effect of the passing of years on our bodies, the effect of ageing, which I’m beginning to feel every morning in my left hip, my sciatic nerve.
We are bound up by time, the passing of time. Our lives are about time, the time it takes to live, to love. We’re always learning how to live, and how to love. And we can’t control any of this. We can’t control time, how it has a hold on us, how we are at the whim of time, the coincidences of time, of when we were born, of when something happens. We make our decisions too late or too early; if only we knew then what we knew now, we’d get the timing right.
Jesus seems to get the timing wrong in the story. He doesn’t get to his friend in time, in time for Jesus to touch his sick body, to heal him, to restore him. He didn’t get there in time, and Lazarus is now dead, and all that there’s left to do is mourn. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and Jesus can do nothing to bring him back, so they cry together. It’s all they can do. All they have is each other, and the memory of Lazarus. At least they can remember. They can keep him close, as they remember him, as they long for him together. And so we have the shortest verse in the bible: verse 35, “And Jesus wept.”
Jesus weeps because he feels the weight of death, which is the weight of time—that someone is taken from your life and you won’t have time with them any more, time to share life with one another. Jesus was “deeply moved,” it says. A better translation would be to say that his body shudders, he convulses. He can’t bear it, the loss of Lazarus, and the weight of it all presses down into his body. He shudders and cries.
And this is a vision of God, of who God is, of what God does, of how God thinks of her friends. The scandal of our faith is that Jesus is what God looks like in the flesh, that this Jesus is God. The tears of Jesus are the tears of God. The good news in this story is that God is affected by us, that God shudders at the thought of losing our friendship, that there is nothing else in this world that God wants more than to be with us, with all of us, with the people God loves—and nothing will get in the way of what God wants, not even death. That’s what we find out when Jesus speaks a word of life into the tomb and Lazarus comes back from the dead. We find out that not even death will get in the way of God’s friendship with us.
But sometimes it takes time, and that’s part of the scandal of our faith—that God honors time, that God lets time have its affect, that God lets us experience time, all the waiting, a lifetime of waiting and learning, a lifetime of joys and sorrows on our way to life with God and with all of God’s friends, with loved ones taken from us, loved ones we are waiting to see again, to feel their touch again. The scandal of our faith is that God undergoes the weight of time with us—that’s what we see when Jesus cries, we see the weight of time pressing down on Jesus as he imagines life without Lazarus.
When we remember the dead, our tears are holy, because they are filled with the tears Jesus shed for his beloved Lazarus. God is in our tears. And God is in the hand that wipes those tears from our face. That’s the image we see in our passage from the book of Revelation—that God will wipe the tears from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). God is in the touch of a hand wiping away the tears running down our cheeks, the gentleness of someone’s comfort.
If you’ve been alive long enough, which all of you have been, you have your own Lazaruses—friends who have died too soon, loved ones with whom you would have liked to have more time. Today, on All Saints Day, we remember all of them, all the people who have passed through our lives, our shared moments, moments so brief, so precious.
We remember them with these candles, these flickering lights as symbols of our memories of our friends, our loved ones, people who were for us flames of God’s love, illuminating our lives, showing us the way, showing us how to live and how to love.
Saints are those people we can’t help but remember, and miss, because they have shown us something of God, of what God is like. And without them we go on with our lives in a kind of bewilderment, a fog of confusion, a sense that the world is out of balance, that time is out of joint, because we feel them with us even when they are gone, and we feel them gone when we need them with us. All we have are flickers of memories, flashes of their presence.
We can’t help but remember them because their lives have opened us up to God, to the God who is love. Their love has taught us what it means to love. Their lives have taught us what it means to live. They have opened us up to the spark of God’s love, a spark in us, that we might become flames like them, the fire of God, the warmth of love in a world that feels too cold, the chill of this world: too cold for life, too cold for love.
We call them saints because we take them with us, they keep us warm, even after they’re gone, because they live on in our love, because God was in the love they showed us, because God is still in their love, the love that flickers in our lives.