Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, one of the five pillar days in the calendar year for baptisms. It is a day when all acknowledge that there is a Communion of Saints and that we don’t really know what that means. But even more than that we might make assumptions about who and what saints actually were/are. Saints, as I tend to think about it most of the time, are people who do or say or write “saintly” things. Whether it is the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Julian of Norwich; the preaching of St. Dominic, or the acts of mercy of St. Teresa of Calcutta or St. Francis of Assisi, we believe that what makes a saint has something to do with their saintliness. But what knits us to them, and all of us to each other as a great Communion of Saints has nothing to do with what we do or say or even write. We are brought together with saints past and present, people like you and me, because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Resurrection, God in Christ has unbound us from all the things that threaten to bring us down and separate us. As surely as the saving power of Christ freed Lazarus through renewed life, he makes us new and takes away what would keep us from God or each other. In Resurrection, God has said, once and for all, “Unbind them, and let them go.”
The story of Lazarus is possibly the clearest example in Scripture of the two levels on which Resurrection impacts us. On the first level, Lazarus, who has been dead for four days by the time Jesus belatedly arrives on the scene. His sisters Mary and Martha had beckoned Jesus to come as much as a week earlier. Now, Jesus has arrived to attend to the already dead Lazarus and, through the power of God, as He brings Lazarus back from the place of death and darkness, he resurrects in one way: He give Lazarus his life back. Lazarus is free to begin again, freed from the prison house of death. Lazarus’ resurrection represents the freeing power of Christ’s resurrection in the here and now of our lives, as we have moments of Resurrection all the time; times we feel the nudge of God’s grace through Christ in our living each day, pushing us to work together, to name and struggle against injustice, and to be the power of Christ in the world, freed from fear and hopelessness. When we reach out in love and hope to our Jewish brothers and sisters of the Tree of Life Synagogue, for instance, in the midst of tragedy, we offer the healing grace of Christ that makes us new, whether we are seeking it or not.
Jesus miracle in raising Lazarus works on a second level: it prefigures, foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection. All the elements are there. There is a tomb, a stone blocking its path outward, and ultimately a figure emerging from it. Lazarus reminds us that Jesus is close to His own death but, more important still, His own rising to life is close at hand. Jesus’ resurrection brings with it the cosmic healing of God, raining God’s grace down upon us not only for this time but for the time to come, when all things will be made new, when every tear will be wiped away and death will be no more. Raising Lazarus seals Jesus’ fate, as the jealousy of the Jewish ruling and religious class cannot abide a rival, much less a Messiah of grace, mercy, and Communion. Jesus’ death is at hand. Jesus rising is nearby and our hopes, our eternal promise, and our new beginning are tied to it. Our healing and our life is upon us.
Raphael Minder in the New York Times (8/3/2017) writes about a “reverse-Lazarus” experience: Santa Marta de Ribarteme, Spain —
“Inside a small church in this tiny Galician village, Pilar Domínguez Muñoz adjusted her dress, put on her sunglasses and stepped into her coffin. Her daughter, Uxía, watched anxiously as pallbearers hoisted her mother onto their shoulders. But Ms. Domínguez Muñoz seemed to rest peacefully as they paraded her through the streets to the sound of a brass band. She was, after all, perfectly alive. So was her daughter. But then, that was the point.
Ms. Domínguez Muñoz was among nine people who took part in the extraordinary funeral ritual, celebrated every July 29th in Santa Marta de Ribarteme, a village of a few hundred residents perched high in northwestern Spain. Morbid though it may seem, the festival is a celebration for those who in the previous year snatched life back from the jaws of death. It is performed on the feast day of the local parish’s most important saint, Martha, whose brother Lazarus was raised from the dead when Jesus visited their home in the Bible’s account. “I know some people think we’re crazy, because even my mother told me so when I decided to take part a few years ago,” said Karina Domínguez, who had previously staged her own funeral and was a pallbearer this year. Some devotees enact their own death after surviving a serious accident or illness, while others do so to thank the saint for saving a relative. Ms. Domínguez Muñoz was taking part for the second consecutive year because she wanted to show gratitude for her daughter’s improved health. Uxía suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease. “Last year, I was in my coffin and she was in her wheelchair, with both ankles broken,” Ms. Domínguez Muñoz said. “My daughter is walking today, thanks to Santa Marta.”
The funeral march, which dates to medieval times, is an example of both pagan and religious fervor in Galicia, where healing legends abound. Minder says: “Though the festival in this village is unusual, healing – both physical and spiritual – is at the heart of some of the world’s main Catholic pilgrimages, like Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal.” After the coffins returned to the church, their occupants stepped out, shook their heavy limbs, and wiped away the sweat and tears.
There are, perhaps, many ways to enact and celebrate the power of resurrection, the miracle of healing, the joy of the gift of life itself. We name ourselves as saints together – not because of how we live or what we do, but because of what God has done for us through the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Today, we celebrate the great gift of Baptism, as we prepare to Baptize little Savannah, and her parents and godparents ready themselves, I hope, to make promises to help their child grow into the full stature of Christ. And Baptism, where we perhaps most clearly celebrate the acceptance of and entrance into Christian community, is soaked in the Resurrection of Jesus. In Baptism, Paul reminds us, we are baptized into Christ’s death and, therefore, naturally, into His Resurrection. And whether we, as church, are coming for Christ in Baptism, Eucharist, Marriage, Burial, Penance, or healing, we come seeking Resurrection. Jesus life, death, and resurrection are embodied in the sacraments. Our sacramental life tells us we are seeking to be made whole, new, and to be freed again through the grace of Jesus. Grace and Resurrection, freedom and new life, moments and a lifetime with God.