Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday 1 November 2015 - All Saints Day

Theme(s): All Saints / God's holy people / God's new and exciting future for all God's people

Sentence: Know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of the glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of God's power in us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18-19)


Eternal God,
you have always taken men and women
of every nation, age and colour
and made them saints;
like them, transformed,
like them, baptised in Jesus' name,
take us to share your glory. Amen.


Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 24:1-6
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44


Isaiah 25:6-9

This passage is background to the Revelation passage below. It looks ahead to what the seer of Revelation 21:1-6 sees. In the Isaiah passage the future new world for the saints of God is seen in an especially lovely way in verse 6: ' ... a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.' Perhaps it is just as well this is a metaphorical attempt to envisage the unknown and unknowable future: the extravagance of the feast - if literally true - does not sound the best of things to do in respect of arteries, heart and liver!

Psalm 24:1-6

Saints are sanctified people, holy persons. In gospel terms, all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are made holy through Christ's death on the cross which cleanses us from sin. Whatever view we have about offering the title 'St.' to an especially revered person, we should be clear: saints are you and me (as well as St Peter, St Mary, St Francis, St Teresa and so on). To be a saint - saved and sanctified by Jesus - is to be a person who can answer the question in verse 3 of this psalm: 'Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?'

The psalm's answer is 'Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully' (4). In a sense the gospel turns the order of verses 4 and 5 around. In the psalm, holy people (saints) according to verse 4 'will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation' according to verse 5.

The gospel says that we are blessed by the Lord and our salvation is assured on the basis of what Christ has done for us and then expects that we will live a life worthy of that blessing and that salvation. Such a life is a holy life, a life lived with clean hands and pure heart,

Revelation 21:1-6a

The celebration of 'all saints' is a celebration of what is coming as much as it is a celebration of what has come to pass (that all God's people, past and present, belong in one fellowship, unbroken by death - see below). What is coming is a full fellowship of the departed and the living, of the resurrected and the yet to be resurrected saints in one 'space.' So John in his final vision sees that 'space' which he describes as 'a new heaven and a new earth' (1) AND as 'the holy city, the new Jerusalem' (2). In this new 'space' all the saints dwell with God, 'they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them' (3); there will be no more separation brought on by death, for 'Death will be no more' (4). This glorious and God-filled future is a sure bet, a promise we may trust because 'these words are trustworthy and true' (5).

We might, if we paused at this point in the passage, reflect on the way in which the visionary promise of the new heaven/earth/Jerusalem is a kind of glorious confusion of spaces/'spaces' merging into one new 'space' for God's people that we end up being none the wiser exactly what this location will actually be like. Perhaps there are clouds with harp playing angels and perhaps there are not. Perhaps Revelation 4-5 (another vision, of the opened heaven centred on God's throne) is more accurate. But even that vision, on close inspection has its obscurities, since what God looks like is very obscure (4:3) and will we really see Jesus as the seven-horned lamb with seven eyes (5:6)? What is easier to grasp is that in this 'space' some things will be so and some not: in particular, no death, no mourning, no pain and no tears (21:4). A good space then to which we can look forward, without worrying whether we like harp music or not!

Lastly, we reflect on 6a: 'Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end." How can what is yet to be already be 'done'? Throughout Revelation, somewhat muted, is a recurring theme of Christ's victory over sin and its effects through the shedding of his blood on the cross. That past victory, around 30 or 33 AD, is the work that needs doing for the new Jerusalem to be the place in which death etc is no more. And that work is DONE! The words are 'trustworthy and true' because what needs to be done has actually taken place. That the full realization of that achievement is yet to be is not in doubt because God-in-Christ is 'the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,' that is, the Lord of time has the future sorted as much as the past.

John 11:32-44

I am approaching this reading as a reading for 'All Saints' and not as a reading in a sequence of readings in John's Gospel, for which we might approach the passage in terms of the connections between the resurrection of Lazarus and the resurrection of Jesus, the provocation of this miracle in the run up to Jesus' arrest ad trial and so forth.

From the perspective of 'All Saints' we read this passage as an invitation to believe in the resurrection of the saints. We all face death, we all grieve the death of loved ones, and we all fear aspects of death, including the prosaic, but real fact that if we do not do something about burying the dead, there will be an awful stench (39). Mary and Martha understand the reality of death (33) but they also understand the power of Jesus (23-27). He could have prevented this death (32). Surely there is nothing he can do now? Even Jesus himself weeps (35). Rolling back the stone (39a) won't do anything except reveal the stench (39b). Jesus presses the point he wishes to make: do the sisters truly believe in him? (40) He proceeds to call on God and Lazarus is raised from the dead (41-44). The sisters have their brother back.

The point of the passage is not whether we would see more resurrections of loved ones if (really/truly/definitely) believe. The point is that God working through Jesus has power over death which is no longer the end of life. Thus we are invited to believe in the resurrection of the saints. They are alive with the Lord in heaven even as we, in another way, are alive with the Lord on earth. All the saints are all those who live in relationship with Jesus Christ, the departed and the living, the dead-but-now-raised and those alive today. Death does not break down our fellowship with the saints.

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