A sermon for All Saints Sunday, November 7, 2021
I come to you in the name of one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
“See, I am making all things new!”
The vision of All Saints we receive today is caught between two poles: the first being the promise as received in the Revelation to John, that even at the end of time, God is still in the process of creating. That all things will be made anew once more. That God can and will continue to create with us, until the vision for creation is realized.
The second point of emphasis we receive today appears to be about the power of God, of Christ, to raise Lazarus from the dead.
But, I don’t think that’s the focus of this story.
I think this story is about the experience of grief that consumes Jesus to the point of weeping. Weeping for his friend. Weeping for those who have gathered to share their own grief in the death of a loved one, a dear member of the community. Weeping for the reality that creation has a finite existence. But, even in that experience of grief, God can create anew. God can create new life, restore life, raise from the dead, as an expression of love, an expression of care, and expression of empathy for the experiences we all share in our collective humanity as part of this creation.
God grieves with us in our own grief.
But, it’s not just the grief we experience in death.
That type of grief was the profound example that helped God connect to our own deeply emotional experience of existing within this creation.
Jesus’ grief for his dear friend Lazarus.
The grief that God will experience as God’s only Son is betrayed by the very creation of God.
It is this profound experience of grief that helps God connect us to the reality that we experience grief in a number of different aspects of our lives, and God holds us in that grief while offering the promise of love throughout.
And, from this shared understanding of grief, God creates new-ness, God enables us to create new-ness in this creation.
We have been called this year to plant a new church into being. This is a profound call that asks a lot of us in this place of St. Stephen’s.
It asks us to consider what our priorities as a church community are.
It asks us to consider how we can live into those priorities.
It asks us to consider how we individually can support those priorities.
It asks us to consider how we can make new-ness in our priorities, leaning into our ability to create new-ness, leaning into our strength in faith and the promise of salvation that stands before us to give us strength as we tackle the hard tasks, as we step up and out into the world to make new-ness a reality in our community.
It is in planting this new church that we will experience grief.
We will grieve that which has come before and will not come again.
Some of this grief is directly related to the impacts of the COVID19 pandemic, and some of this grief is simply because we are not the same parish we were 3 years ago, let alone 5, 10, 20, 40 or more.
We grieve the people that have come before and will not come again.
Those foundational pieces of our community who made lasting impacts here in this place. Those saints of our church who we have said goodbye to over the past several years. And, we will continue to say goodbye to one another in the coming years, whether it be when someone moves away or when a beloved member leaves this life for the next, the grief of goodbye is one that remains with us as a constant presence.
We grieve the way that the church changes.
Whether it be unfamiliar music, unfamiliar liturgy, or changes to tradition necessitated by space and time and community health and wellness, it is sometimes hard to accept that the church is continually changing. This grief is totally acceptable and normal, but it can become damaging if we don’t name it and honor it. When we name it, honor it, we can see that it is time to let go of those things that are no longer useful, to let go of those things that we cling to out of fear of the unknown that is the new. Then, we learn to accept that this grief is pointing us to the joy that we’ve held, that we are encouraged to hold onto that joy and to find the joy in the new that is happening all around us.
It is the practice of accepting that we lean into our faith that calls us to trust in God’s ability to make all things new. We are called to trust in God’s ability to lead us and guide us in new-ness, that God’s call to us is to plant a new church into being by listening deeply to the needs of our community of believers gathered here together and by listening deeply to the needs of our community of wanderers and seekers gathered all around us in this place we call Southwest Washington, taking those needs and finding the balance of expression that we as a church are called to live into in our shared community in 2022 and beyond.
The task before us then is to live into the vision of creation that was received by John in the Revelation:
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
We can work towards creating this reality of creation here and now. We do not have to wait for the final judgment to pass. We can hasten the coming of the kingdom by answering the call of God today.
Why wouldn’t we?
Why wouldn’t we want to dwell with God, where every tear is wiped away, where mourning and crying and pain will be no more?
This is the goal of creation, but it will not happen without our work towards making it a reality.
And, part of that work is learning to embrace our experiences of grief, allowing them to teach us about the reality of this creation, of how our love is so deeply entwined inside of us, dictating our emotional responses, dictating how we interact with one another. How our ability to accept the power of our love is publicly modeled by Jesus Christ, who even in his grief, experienced love for all who had gathered.
Jesus allowed his grief to inform him of the reality of creation, and enabled us to connect with Christ, with God in a relationship that surpasses our understanding, that stands always readily available for us to lean on, learn from, and grow into our own ability to live a life of faith, to live into the way of love.
When we come to accept our experiences of grief, both the deep grief of losing a loved one but also the deep grief of loss in general, and in accepting, understand that our grief is an expression of love for that which is lost, then we can also learn to accept that we have the ability to create new-ness through our love, through the power of our faith, through the relationship we have with our creator.
I want to take a moment to thank all of those who have submitted their pledge for 2022 in the hope of what we can accomplish together as we work on planting a new church into being, one that dares to dream the vision promised. And, I want to encourage those who have not yet pledged to consider how you too can make a difference in this community of St. Stephen’s, which in turn will make a real difference in this wider community that we all share.
We are called to take up Jesus’ yoke and walk in the way of love as we explore how we as St. Stephen’s can be a new church for the people already here and the people who desperately need us, but don’t yet know it.
We do this today in our celebration of All Saints Sunday by reflecting on the very real reality that grief is an important experience of our creation, and from that grief we can choose to create new-ness as an expression of the love that enables us to know grief in the first place.
May you come to share in those ineffable joys that God has prepared for those who truly love God and love their neighbor.