Fr David's Sermon
2nd November 2003
'Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" John 11
In his Gospel, St. John invites us to see the 'signs of glory' revealed by Jesus. In the other Gospels we would identify them as miracles, John wants us to reflect on the deeper meaning behind the outward event, so that we may grow in our faith in Jesus.
Glory is found amidst the ordinary and everyday. At a village wedding the wine runs out; glory is seen in the miraculous provision of more. Glory is revealed at the feeding of the five thousand with its gift of plenty coming from two loaves and five fishes. It is seen in the healing of a cripple, it shines like light in the darkness.
For John the supreme moment of glorious revelation comes with the crucifixion of Christ. At that moment he is glorified. So glory is seen at dark moments, in the unexpected and seemly inglorious.
In today's Gospel the glory of God is seen in a graveyard in the story of the raising of Lazarus. It is reflects the universal yet highly personal and particular experience of death and loss. There is grief. 'Jesus wept'. There is recrimination, the 'if only' represented by Mary's words, "Lord if you had been here, my brother would have not have died." There is the 'odour' of corruption, the sense of 'disaster' and 'destruction' spoken of by the writer of Wisdom.
We can recognise and identify with all that but then comes the difficult bit, the dramatic raising of Lazarus. It is properly a miraculous resuscitation, a foretaste of the Resurrection heralded by Christ. Lazarus had to die again. Unease with the story is reflected in the later Christian tradition that Lazarus after his return never smiled again. He was called back from glory to reveal Christ's victory over the grave. "Lazarus, come out". "Take off the grave clothes and let him go".
Our other readings today are often used at the place of tombs, because they give hope the face of the seeming finality of death. 'The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God' (Wisdom) 'I saw a new heaven and a new earth.' (Revelation) The latter with its vision of the city of God, prepared like a bride for her husband, and of a place where 'there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain', is particularly cheering.
So we have two pictures, one that of the graveyard easily recognisable, the other the vision of heaven outside our immediate experience. What connects the two? The tragedy of death lies in the separation it brings between those who love. The Christian faith speaks of that gulf being bridged by Christ. If the basis for our hope in eternal life is his Resurrection then the creedal expression of it is found in our belief in the Communion of Saints. 'Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones and he watches over his elect'. (Wisdom)
The Communion of Saints describes the link between the human experience of the apparent finality of death and our Christian vision of heaven. We celebrate this today at All Saints' tide. The collect gives us the picture of knitting. 'You knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship'.
In the New Testament the saints are all Christians, made Holy through the death of Christ. The tradition singles out and adds others for special remembrance. Most are forgotten by history, no longer remembered by anyone. Today, All Saints' Day, is their day and ours, the day for celebrating the lives of all Christians both living and departed, whether remembered or forgotten.
In the St. Saviour's Church Oxton on the Wirral, in a side chapel is a reredos from the 1920's. It reflects that time just after the terrible losses of the First World War when some were drawn by Spiritualism. It belongs to the heyday of Anglo Catholicism. It shows mass being celebrated according to the custom of the time with the priest and servers facing East. They are surrounded by the ethereal figures of Christ and his Saints, some in timeless costume, others in Khaki. The message is that when we celebrate the Eucharist and receive the Sacrament we do so in the Communion of Saints. The experience of faith is that in Newman's words we are close to those we have 'loved long since and lost awhile.' In Christ the Gulf is bridged.
I leave you with that picture as we prepare to make our communion on this All Saints' Sunday.
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Last updated 05/11/2003 17:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd