WORSHIP SERVICE November 7, 2021 All Saints Sunday
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Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died.
Lord, if you would have been here, my sister, my brother, my mother, my grandfather, my friend, my child… Lord, if you would have been here, they would not have died.
Mary’s words spoken out of grief, out of anger, distress, deep sadness – words that resonate so well. Why weren’t you here Jesus? You could have stopped this!
And before we get to the end of this passage where Lazarus is raised, first, Jesus weeps. Jesus sits with her in her grief. He feels it. He knows it, and he lets it out.
This community has experienced deep loss. Today, we especially think of those killed in the shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill three years ago – a tragedy and traumatic event that still has its grasp on many hearts. We remember the lives of our congregation members who have died this year all the way up until just last week. And Covid has led to great loss in many forms – loss of life, loss of connection, a loss of what was once normal. We don’t always get a chance to feel like we can let it all out – to talk about it, to cry, to scream, to simply remember. But that’s exactly what happens here with Mary. She lets it out and Jesus stands with her – weeping. He feels her anger and is with her in that moment. This, to me, is a sign of a vulnerable God. A God who affirms that we don’t have to hold it all together all the time.
And as the story continues, Jesus goes to the tomb because it says, he is “greatly disturbed.” He tells them to roll the stone away from the tomb. Martha stops and says, but Jesus, he’s been dead four days. It’s going to smell really bad. But Jesus proceeds. The stench of death will not stop resurrection.
As people stand around doubting the life-giving promise that Jesus is, Jesus says, “ah, ah.” These people need to see. Opening the eyes of the blind, raising the dead – these aren’t just some magic tricks Jesus does to impress and convince people. They are signs of something far greater.
They are signs of hope. They are witnesses to resurrection and new life in this moment and in days to come. We often talk about Resurrection and new life either in reference to Jesus’ physical resurrection or as if it is something that will come after we die, far into the future, beyond anything we could imagine now. But in this moment, at Lazarus’ tomb Jesus is saying, what about now? In the midst of his weeping, in the midst of the stench of death, Jesus says new life is possible.
Now, in January of 2020, my Grandpa – my dad’s dad – died.
He was a pastor and he lived his life really trying to advocate for people, with the help of my Grandma right alongside him. He cared for the LGBTQ+ community back in the 60s and 70s, he advocated for impoverished communities, worked towards interfaith and interdenominational relationships. It’s a tough act to follow, I’ll admit. And at the end of my Grandpa’s funeral we sang, “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In.” As my Grandfather was being carried out in his casket, we’re singing this song, and I’m carrying one of my nephews in my arms. As we’re walking behind, I realize I’m smiling. And I’m dancing with my nephew. At first, I stopped. It was an uncomfortable feeling. Should I be doing this? I’m not supposed to be joyful right now. I should be sad and somber. What are people going to think of me? But it was in that moment that I realized – this was perfect. This is exactly what my Grandpa wanted me to be feeling. Not because he didn’t want me to be sad or because he wanted to stop my tears from flowing, but because he knew and had confidence and hope in the end of the story, in God’s story. He lived his life for that, and he wanted to make sure I knew it and I was going to live my life for it as well.
It was this that then carried me through the next tragedy of losing one of my cousins a month later to suicide. I had grown up with him. He was my age. And we always just kind of “got” each other. It broke me in a lot of ways and at the same time I felt, nah. I know the end of this story. And death just isn’t it.
In the midst of wanting to scream at the top of my lungs “Jesus, if you would have been here,” I also thought about Jesus weeping alongside me. I thought about the lives they had lived and each of their passions in caring for other people and for the planet. I thought about my Grandpa and the ways he lived knowing the end of the story; knowing that as the passage from Revelation states, “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” New life and resurrection – they are the end of the story, and they are part of our story here and now. Amidst death and pain and suffering, God is pulling this world into the work of resurrection, into the work of abundant life. Because as Jesus stands beside Mary, as God stands beside each of us weeping with us, something else is at work. As we weep, as we let it all out, as we process traumatic experiences, as we lay our broken hearts on the table, we make room for new life. We make room for relationships. We begin to see one another and our world differently. We begin to see the need for resurrection, for abundant life, not only for ourselves, but for one another.
It is with this in mind that in the next couple of weeks, we want to invite everyone in the congregation to help with an effort that we’ve been invited to partake in – through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. Around the world, folks suffer every day, living in dangerous conditions that lead them to flee to the United States, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua, just to name a few. It is a challenge, figuring out how to care for so many people, to fulfill the basic need of safety, that grounding, so that there is at least an opportunity for abundant life. We’ve been invited to make Christmas cards, which you can do at home, or we’ll have a card-making event next week in-between services. We’ll also be collecting special donations for LIRS to help give Christmas gifts to the kids in detention centers and to support the resettling efforts for Afghan refugees. I invite you into this effort because we do know the end of the story. We know that death isn’t the end. And we know that resurrection and God’s love are abundant and true and inclusive. We believe in the promise of the resurrection and that it surely is coming, but also know it’s not just for after we die – that the promise of resurrection is for the here and now as well; that we get glimpses of it, that we’re a part of it.
-Pastor Emily Ebert