Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, November 7, 2021

YEAR B 2021 feast of all saints

All Saints, 2021
Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the PBS series called “Grantchester.”  I’m really quite fond of it.  Probably because it’s about an Anglican priest.  It’s a really good series, but it definitely suggests that I am way behind in solving murders about town.  Anyway, the most-recent episode ends with the priest going to visit his former curate in prison.  When the two are face to face, the priest asks how he’s doing, and the first words from curate are, “Will you pray with me?”

And it crushed me!  I don’t often cry over television shows, but this really got to me.  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was the word “with” that did it.  He doesn’t say, “will you pray for me when you get back home?”  No, he asks him to pray with him.  Right here, in front of the two prison guards.  And this is the Anglican way.  Our prayer is public, corporate, and common.  Our book of prayer is called “common” because we use it in common, together.  We worship together.

And we see this in today’s gospel reading.  After Jesus tells Lazarus to come out, Jesus does not take the cloths off Lazarus.  He doesn’t tell Lazarus to unbind himself.  No, says to the community of friends, “Unbind him and let him go.”  He is raised back to life by Jesus, but he is set free by the community.  You and I follow this same pattern: In Holy Baptism—like when Levi is baptized at our 10 o’clock service today—in Baptism we are brought to new life, and in the community we are set free.  Set free to live out our faith, worshipping together, praying together.  Unbind him, and let him go.  Indeed.

But let’s look at what comes before that dramatic moment.  Jesus comes to be with Mary and Martha because their brother Lazarus has died.  Our reading today begins with Mary kneeling before Jesus and saying, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  Ouch!  That is some serious sass isn’t it?  I mean who talks to Jesus like that?  Well, the truthful answer is, all of us do.  We all have moments when we blame God for things, when we doubt whether God really cares about us.  

But it’s interesting that Mary is not questioning Jesus’ ability to help; she questions his timing.  Which is kind of worse, when you think about it.  She’s saying, Jesus, if you had been more punctual, none of this would have happened.  You could have done something, but you were late.  This feels really awkward and pushy to me.  If I were Jesus, I think this would have put me over the edge.  Fortunately for all of us, I’m not Jesus.

Then Jesus asks, "Where have you laid him?" They say to him, "Lord, come and see.”  Jesus is asking, “Where is your pain?  Where is your shame?  Where is the thing that makes you so hurt and angry with me?”  And they say, “Lord, come and see.”  They invite him into their literal pain and suffering, and Jesus begins to weep.  This moment is crucial to our understanding of how Jesus feels about us and about our suffering.  Jesus knows we are hurting, and when we show him our pain, Jesus weeps with us.  God weeps with us.  Like the curate in Grantchester, pray with me, be with me, weep with me.

But then they get cold feet.  When they get to the tomb where Lazarus has been laid to rest, Martha, his sister says, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”  They go from inviting Jesus into their pain saying “Come and see,” to now saying, “No Jesus, it’s too smelly for you.”  Like, Jesus can take seeing my pain and weeping with me, but some things are just too stinky.  This would be too much for you Jesus; you’re too holy to withstand the really hard stuff in my life.

It’s a powerful metaphor isn’t it?  Don’t we all do this?  Push down the things and hide the stuff that isn’t holy enough for Jesus to see?  Like Jesus is just too precious for it?  Too perfect to put up with our imperfections and failures?  Too disappointed in us for not living up to the expectations of others?  That part of my life is just too sordid for you to get involved with Jesus.  Let’s go back to the house and turn some water into wine or something.

Then Jesus says, take away the stone.  And they do.  The community takes away the stone.  Together.  Jesus tells Lazarus to come out.  And then Jesus says to the people, "Unbind him, and set him free.”  And the community does, together.  And we see this exact same pattern in our own lives, over and over.

When tragedy strikes, we say to God, “If you had been here, this horrible thing would not have happened to me.”  And Jesus asks, “Where is your suffering, show me.”  And we say, “Come and see.”  And Jesus weeps with us.  He weeps in the community with us.  But then we decide that there are some things that are too big for Jesus to take.  Too painful for him to understand.  Too stinky for his holy nose to handle.

And that’s when Jesus says to the community around us, take away the stone, unbind them and set them free.  God invites us into communities for exactly this reason.  So that we do not have to suffer alone.  We do not have to pray alone.  We do not have to sing or worship or eat alone.  The hands and feet of Jesus are in this room.  We are the body of Christ in this world.  And we can say to one another, pray with me, unbind me, set me free.  And together, we are set free because of Jesus.

 Each one of us is Mary and Martha, with our anger at God for not doing what we expect.  And Jesus weeps with us.  Each one of us is a member of the community, that follows the command of Jesus to unbind one another and set them free.  And each one of us is Lazarus in the tomb, awaiting the voice of Jesus to call us out of death into life.

There is no pain or shame that is too much for God.  There is nothing beyond the reach of Jesus’ voice, calling us to new life.  There is nothing we cannot get through together, because God has given us each other, and has also put us in the midst of the saints of every time and every place, all gathered around the throne of God.  You are not alone, because you are surrounded by all the saints of God.  We pray together, we weep together, and we are set free together.  All the saints of God, set free together.


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