Sermon – November 2, 2003 – The Fear In Between

Today is All Saint’s Sunday. It is a Sunday we celebrate every year,
but I not so sure that all of us always know what it is all about.
Well, All Saints Day has been around the church since at least the 7th
century, originally as a time to honor the martyrs of the church. By
that time in the history of the church there were plenty of those. It has
evolved now into a commemoration of all the people of God who make up
the Body of Christ, both the living and the dead.

It is a good day to recall those whom we love who have died, to recall
their companionship, love, gifts and legacies. On this Sunday we
remind ourselves again of the joy they brought us.

As I said, it is also a time to celebrate the community of the
baptized, all those whose lives have become intertwined with our own in this
spiritual fellowship, the church. And we remember such giants of faith
as Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Martin Luther, but also
those less lauded saints like St. Grandma, St. Dad, St. Mother, St.
Pastor, St. Good Friend in Need, all those by whose lives drew us closer to
Christ’s love.

Today we honor and remember the saints, living and dead who have
constituted this body, this family in which we participate and on which we
depend. And that is a good and abiding thing to do.

But there is more to be said here this morning. While we remember the
saints, we do so in expectation that God holds for us one last, great
surprise. We do so in expectation of the resurrection. Surely, our
expectations break no new ground here. The story of Lazarus is filled
today with expectation–Mary knelt at the feet of Jesus and said to him,
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died..” Hers
was the expectation that this Jesus had the power to prevent this death,
to stand in the way of death. The Jews who were watching felt the same
way, “Could not he who opened the eyes o the blind man have kept this
man from dying.” They, too, saw him as one whose power could stand in
the way of death. Little did they know. Jesus exceeds their
expectations. Though cautioned against entering the tomb because of the likely
smell, Jesus enters and calls Lazarus out. Even death can’t stand
against him. Lazarus is raised, beyond expectation.

As the community of saints, the body of believers, we are an expectant
people. This story points to our greatest gift, greatest promise from
God, that death shall not finally, and eternally prevail over us. This
All Saints Day we celebrate the Resurrection and the reconstituting of
the community for all time.

Even as it is our great hope, it is a little sticky. The notion of
resurrection has always been a little sticky. In Jesus’ time, the
Sadduccees dismissed the notion of resurrection. You were born, you lived,
you died. That was it. Even the disciples required the appearance of
Jesus before them before they would believe. So, too, I suppose today.

In a conversation one day, I had a pastor pose the question, “Do you
think people today really, actually believe in the resurrection?” Well,
we sure say we do, every week as we confess together the Creed. “Yes,
but do you think people really believe in this miraculous promise?”

Do we? Well, what of the everyday resurrections that draw us from
death into life. An addict on the verge of destruction and death is pulled
away from the brink, in spite of the compulsion of the disease. Isn’t
that resurrection? A marriage, rocked by boredom, self-interest or
infidelity survives all of the reasons not to go on, yet love prevails.
Isn’t that resurrection? Hopes fade to black with the loss of a loved
one, yet one finds the strength to go on, and loves again. Isn’t that
resurrection?

And aren’t we surrounded by everyday miracles? When corrective lenses
were developed that caused the virtually blind to see, it was acclaimed
as ‘miraculous.’ When the atom was split and huge amounts of energy
was released, it was miraculous. When we peer into the outer reaches of
the universe and see virtually the beginning of time, isn’t that
miraculous? An egg and sperm unite and divide and here comes a child with
ten fingers and toes. That is truly a miracle.

And the Chicago Cubs. . . . the Cubs. . . . well, let’s not push it.

All these things we know and witness and can, after some patience, time
and instruction can understand . . . and so we take the miracle out of
them. We say that’s not really resurrection, that’s not really
miracle, that’s just good medicine or therapy, or science or whatever.

But when Jesus calls out a dead man and restores him to life, we
stumble all over ourselves because we can’t quite pin it down. We call it a
miracle, but most of us have our fingers crossed.
We say, instead that Lazarus wasn’t actually resurrected, which is
true, just restored. It’s like a super healing. But that dodges the point
that Jesus makes here. That death stands down in the face of this
Christ.

There’s the issue here, and there’s the promise.

Listen, if we are going to begin to understand God. If we are going to
give God all that one who would meet the criteria of the divine
deserves, then we must allow this; that there are some things which God
reserves to God’s self. That God is given both prerogative and mystery.
If not, then God fails simply by the limits of our own definitions.

If God would be God, the God must have both prerogative. . . . because
God is not a prop or puppet in our grand designs. . . . and mystery . .
. because if God could be totally understood and defined, then God
would be limited.

So, out of this mystery, out of this prerogative, God says, that
through the life, death and resurrection of this Jesus, you, too, shall live.
And you shall be resurrected, restored, reborn. And you shall live in
my eternal time. And death shall not defy or deny you . . . . or me.

The story of Lazarus is the story of Christ’s power over death in the
life of Lazarus. The story of Christ’s resurrection is the story of the
defeat of death, the death of death. This is the thing that God
reserves unto God’s self, and the big surprise is that it is for you and for
me. The saints.

If we get caught up in the biology of the resurrection, of the physics
of resurrection, we will miss the promise that we will be restored.
That these things which God has gifted us with, life and love and hope
and joy and faith are not fleeting and time bound half-truths, but
instead are bound up by love and grace and faith, in God’s eternal being.
That’s what resurrection is all about, I think.

Now, let’s go back for just a minute to Lazarus. We noted that he was
not resurrected, but raised. So what became of him. Surely he lived
on, and then like the rest of us, died. But many of wondered of his
life. The American playwright, Eugene O’Neill wondered. He wrote a
play called “Lazarus Laughed.” It tells, in the artist’s imagination,
of the days following the raising of Lazarus. In the play, Lazarus is
filled with laughter, a steady, hearty laughter. And when asked why,
Lazarus replies, he gives a glimpse of what he saw in that encounter
with Jesus. He says, laughing, “death is dead. There is only the present
and the future, and death is the fear in between.” Death is the fear
in between.

So today, as we remember all those whom we loved who have passed away,
and surely we cry and mourn those who have died, but not as those who
have no hope. As we remember those who have gone before us, and as we
remember the saints to our right or left, those we hold in our arms,
let our hearts rejoice that Christ has taken care of the ‘fear in
between,’ and that in God’s mystery and grace, we will be restored and
resurrected with all whom we love into God’s eternal time.

Amen

Copyright (c) 2003 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus