... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

All Saints
Message November 4, 2012

Recalling the Past; Living the Present; Looking for Hope of the Future

Text: Isaiah; Psalm 24:1-6; Rev. 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

Arguably one of the more overlooked of the principal feasts or High Holy Day celebrations, All Saints is the celebration of church as the establishment of Christ’s legacy to humanity. This is the time that the church looks back at its history with gratitude to all those, who in faith, glimpsed the true work of God in Christ and who strived, often against harsh persecutions, to live in concert with the teachings of Jesus. And while this time of reflection, recollections and remembrance often seems focussed on the past and that great cloud of witnesses, the readings beg us to interpret our past in the context of the present and forward to the future as God’s divine design thus converting a reminiscence into a hope.

The passage from Isaiah forms part of the so-called Isaiah apocalypse which follows immediately after the oracles concerning the various nations, each of whom had laid waste to Israel. In the context of this past occupation Isaiah turns to the future in which the end times will not only bring the downfall of the rich and powerful but also a destruction of their great city, “you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin.” And upon this rubble God will build a new dynasty – a kingdom in which all peoples will enjoy plenty and in which all sin will be cast aside. At that time the peoples will rejoice in the Lord’s salvation.

The opening reading connects both to the Psalm and the writings of John of Patmos: to the Psalm as it clearly celebrates the past, present and future and to John as the vision of Isaiah forms the vision of John’s New Jerusalem with the passing of the old and the coming down of the new.

Psalm 24 is easily broken into three sections which can be interpreted in light of the past (vv1-2), the present (vv3-6) and the future (vv7-10). It can also be described by the terms celebration, instruction and expectation. As the psalm opens there is a solemn acknowledgement that the Lord is the Creator and it is God who formed all things, and in whose hand all things, including humanity have their being. It is a statement of praise for all that has happened. In the context of this past the next 4 verses declare how we live our lives in the present and give direction as to the proper response to God’s creative works. Here we learn that the Ten Commandments are but simple directives to a greater attitude of response: integrity, honesty humility and respectfulness. Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, those who do not yield themselves to false gods and those who are respectful to God and others are those who will by the present, be part of the entourage to enter God’s temple in the future. This future described in vv7-10 might well have been the context of the Arc of the Covenant entering into Jerusalem but on a deeper level can be seen as the establishment of a newer city of glory variously looked to as the Church or deeper yet the Kingdom of God coming in the last days. In a dialogue format the cry goes out to open the gates of the new city that the king of glory might enter. Those who seek ask, “who is this king of glory and are informed that it is “The Lord strong and Mighty. For Christians this Lord is seen as both God and Christ Jesus who through the cross and resurrection has won this final battle. Thus the new life the heavenly life is won for all. In this context All Saints Day becomes the continuation of the story from Incarnation to the Cross and from the Resurrection to the Reign of Christ. The great battle has been won; a new order established and only awaits the entrance of those called – the church.

Some might balk at this rather pompous assertion as to the place of church, yet from Scriptural witness the church has been viewed at various times as the bride of Christ, the elect, the new order and the Way to Salvation. In the sense of church being the Body of all faithful believers such assertions can be seen as justified especially in light of the psalmist’s description of those attributes of ideal human response to God’s creative plans.

It is this ideal which John of Patmos the author of the Book of Revelation understands when in his vision of the New Jerusalem coming down declared, “See the home of God is among mortals”. John’s vision honours the past as he writes to the seven churches recalling to and for them the love of Christ who for all humanity suffered and in his suffering freed us from our sins. It also honours the present as acknowledging the situation in which the visions occurred. That vision was a glimpse of heaven that is and the dialogue between author and angels is an account of both past and present. By very graphic and at times obscure images John comes to the crux of the new Order, the new promise as found in Christ’s suffering. The Lamb who was obedient but in sacrifice liberated humanity from the chains of sin has opened a future in which there will be no sin, no mourning and no death. The New Jerusalem would be the bride of Christ, the body of all the Faithful. Complex and often mystifying John’s Gospel is never the less a celebration of the past, an instruction for the present and an expectation of hope in what lies ahead.

The final reading, the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus is in itself a commentary on the past, the present and the future. Lazarus has died, his life has passed and the present is a time of mourning of grief and of anger. But there is a future and that future is surprising and relevant.

While we hear only a part of the story in today’s lection, we need to place it in the context of the whole, beginning with Jesus’ escape from the authorities in the Temple recounted in Chapter 10. Having sought refuge once again in the wilderness of Jordan word comes of Lazarus being ill. The response of Jesus is that this illness would not lead to death, but only to God’s glory and so he waits. After two days he re-enters Judea heading for Bethany. Arriving at Bethany he finds Lazarus has already been in the tomb 4 days and those around are in the throes of great sorrow. Into this present Jesus offers a vision of a future – that future is exemplified by the last of the miracles he would perform prior to his own death by crucifixion. Calling Lazarus to come out after having the tomb opened, Jesus through the Father has effected a resurrection. Lazarus though dead is given a second life and although Lazarus will again one day suffer death again, this raising is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ resurrection.

For John the parallel of Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus with God’s raising of Jesus is of paramount importance as it established the beginning of the new Order and validated the promises God had given through the prophets concerning the end of days. That end of days would not be an end but a new beginning.

Thus it seems most appropriate that All Saints should recall the past, honouring the saints of every age, relish the present as a time for instruction toward right living and look to the future as a point of hope and new beginnings. May we all so live as to be granted access to the New Jerusalem in which every tear shall be wiped away and death shall be no more.