Sermon text: John 11: 32-44
You’ve heard the phrase, “Not all heroes wear capes.” In that same vein, as we celebrate All Saints Day, I’ll add that “Not all saints wear halos.”
Typically, saints are thought of as the faithful men and women of old who worked miracles, were outstanding servants, and are always depicted in classical art with a golden halo around their heads. They are the martyrs who died for their faith. They are the servants of Christ who shared the gospel in new lands and in new languages. They are the protectors of the poor, the suffering, and the discarded. We venerate the saints as people voted into the Christian Hall of Fame—people who inspire, teach, and served beyond expectation. These are the saints in our mind’s eye.
But the saints go beyond this limited cream of the Christian crop, and today we recognize the dead members of the church. Today we set this time aside to re-member, to reflect on who we’ve lost to mortality, what we gained from them while they were alive, and most importantly, and how was made known through their example.
Of course, each of us maintains a different list of saints on All Saints Day. We have lists that are rich and diverse. Lists of the unique relationships and people we grieve, that we silently add to the tolling chimes of our prayers. These too are the saints.
However, death is not a requirement for sainthood. The saints can also live, breathe, walk, and talk. In fact, according to the Bible, saints are defined in a variety of ways.
Saints are believers in Christ Jesus.
Saints are called.
Saints have faith and salvation.
Saints are inheritors.
Saints are members of God’s household.
Saints are made holy, they are set apart.
Saints are living.
Saints are dead.
Saints are from everywhere, from all tribes and nations.
The New Testament defines the saints as all these things, and as a community of faith we are all counted as saints, even if you cannot see our halos.
In the wonderful, hope filled scripture passages from today we see how the saints are depicted as gathered together. In each lesson God comes to the saints that have been collected in community—in a feast on God’s holy mountain, as witnesses of the New Jerusalem coming down to earth from heaven, and as neighbors and friends consoling the grief of two sisters. Yes, God comes to us as individuals, but the power of sainthood exists when we are gathered together as God’s people in community.
Take, for instance, the raising of Lazarus. In this miracle, as he is resuscitated from the tomb, Jesus shows the saints the vision of life to come. That is the overarching promise we hear in both Isaiah and Revelation, that God will destroy and eradicate heartache and grief. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more. The shroud of death will be swallowed up forever and God will wipe away the tears from all faces.
However, until that day comes, those Godly actions are the work of the saints. God’s work, our hands.
Notice that in the miracle of Lazarus, the miracle is not complete as the dead man walks out of the stinky tomb. Lazarus emerges with his body wrapped in strips of cloth. The symbols of death still cling to Lazarus as he is given the gift of new life. To complete the miracle, Jesus gives the command to the crowd, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
I cannot think of a better description for the saints. We are to unbind people of all the forces that rob us of life so that we may enjoy it to the fullest of God’s intentions. As the hands of God we work to bridge the gap between the world as it exists and the world that God intends for us.
When I was a camp counselor there was an activity I liked to do with my cabins, especially if we were hiking or walking long distances. I would pick up a stick—just a medium sized piece of wood—and I would introduce it to the group. “Hey everyone, this is a stick. Its name is Gertrude (or whatever name came to my mind at the time). I want you to tell me the story of Gertrude.
As we walked the campers were instructed to pass the stick, and every camper was given creative license to add to Gertrude’s life. After they authored that chapter of her life the stick was passed to another camper, and the story continued. Gertrude was animated. She was given life…a wonderful, fascinating, silly, over-the-top life. And it all happened because the campers supplemented the story.
In many ways, as the saints, we give life to the people who surround us. We add to the story. We animate. We do what God will do on the holy mountain and in the New Jerusalem. We unbind, we support, we console, we feed, we advocate, we pray, we are present, we are saints.
St. Nicholas, St. Francis, St. Lucia, St. Christopher, St. Anne, St. Catherine of Siena, they all, along with all the venerated saints of heaven, left marks on their community by their actions. The same is true for the eleven saints that we name from our congregation today.
Now it is our turn to don the halo. It is our turn to be the life giving and restoring hands of Christ. It is our turn to be God’s saints until that time when we are all gathered around the throne of God. Amen.