Monday, November 9, 2015

Life after Death

November 8th, 2015      “Life after Death”    Rev. Heather Jepsen
John 11:32-44 with Revelation 21:1-6a
          Death and Resurrection; these are topics that we seem to reserve for the Easter season.  Even though we are a resurrection people, even though ours is a faith that claims life in the face of death, it seems like we only share that story with others once a year.  I am not sure if that is because we don’t really believe the story, because we are afraid or ashamed of the story, or because we don’t really think the story of resurrection applies to us and our loved ones.  In the world we live in, death certainly plays a leading role.  Stories of new life are not front page news, unless of course we are talking about the Royals.
          Today we are celebrating All Saints Day.  This is a time to gather together and remember the members and friends of our congregation who have died this past year.  As with any year in the life of the church, there have been some profound losses from among our ranks.  There are voids in these pews this morning, places where we look for loved ones and find ourselves once again surprised that they are not here.
          When we gather for All Saints we remember not only the deaths of this most recent year, but of all the years in the life of the church.  Generations have come and gone from these pews.  Many have gone ahead of us to join the great cloud of witnesses now with our Lord in heaven.  Similarly in our own lives, generations have come and gone.  We all have loved ones who created a way for us in this world and are no longer here.  The sense of loss runs deep.
          All Saints Sunday isn’t just about the friends and family we know personally, it is also about all the people on this earth who live and who die.  This year when I am thinking of those who have died, I find myself continually drawn back to the migrant crises in Europe.  I find myself considering the children whose parents place them in boats and say a prayer that somehow, someday, they will arrive on safer shores.  Over half the migrants are children.  What must home be like for those who would send their children off in such a way? 
          There is a poem circling the internet these days by Warsan Shire.  He writes “No one leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark.  You only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.  You have to understand that no one puts their children in boats, unless the boats and the sea are safer than the land.”  This All Saints Day, I am thinking of Aylan Kurdi, the 3 year old Syrian child whose body was found on the shores of Turkey.  This All Saints Day, I am thinking of those lost children and grieving parents.
          What can we say in the face of such suffering?  How can we preach life while we are surrounded by death?  These are the questions I imagine folks asked of Jesus as he came to the tomb of Lazarus that morning.  It had been four days since the death of Lazarus.  This is the time, as many of you know, when the shock of death starts wearing off and the numbness of depression starts settling in.  This is the time when you begin to truly consider the rest of your life without your beloved.
          Jesus comes to the tomb and Mary is overcome with grief.  She falls at his feet and weeps.  She wishes for life, she wishes for healing, she wishes Jesus had come earlier with his resurrection presence.  But now it is too late.  The tomb is sealed and the body has begun to decay.  Now there is nothing but death.
          Jesus too, is full of grief.  He weeps at the sight of Mary.  He weeps at the sorrow he feels himself for the death of Lazarus.  I am convinced that Jesus weeps with us in death as well.  Jesus weeps for Terrence and Ray.  Jesus weeps for Les and for Pat.  Jesus weeps for Avery, Elaine, and Kathryn.  Jesus weeps for the children on the beach, and the children who never even made it to the boats.  Jesus weeps for the generations that have gone before.  Jesus joins us in our grief and Jesus weeps for what has been lost.
          Jesus then decides to do something about it.  He calls for the stone to be removed.  The sisters and friends of Lazarus protest.  Why disturb what is already settled?  Like Martha, we believe in the power of resurrection.  But we do not really believe that it is possible for us today.  Jesus suffers, he cries out, he is greatly disturbed, and then he commands.  “Lazarus, come out!”  Resurrection is suddenly reality, and Jesus demands that those gathered “Unbind him, and let him go.”
          Our faith challenges us to believe this story.  It challenges us to believe in the power of life over death.  It challenges us to confess resurrection.  And it challenges us to admit that death is merely an interruption of life, and not a finality.  Our faith challenges us to unbind the power of death in our lives and to let it go.
          Our reading from Revelation supports this vision.  I see Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus when we read that the home of God is among mortals and that God will wipe every tear from their eyes.  The promise of resurrection is here in the new heaven and new earth; a place where death will be no more, mourning and crying will be no more.  God is all things: Alpha and Omega, death and life.  And God is making all things new.  This is the hope we cling to in the midst of crises and death.  This is the promise of resurrection power.  This is Easter!
          The life of faith is a life in the midst of death.  All of us have experienced loss and all of us will go forward into death ourselves.  But Jesus himself goes with us.  That is what we gather together to celebrate at the table.  Here at the table we remember a God who weeps with us, as well as a God who wipes away tears.  Here we remember a God who goes forward into death, as well as a God who leads the way into new life.  This is the story we tell; death and life woven together, Alpha and Omega for all eternity.
          Today we gather as a family, which is fitting as we celebrate the great family of faith this All Saints day.  We think of generations before us who have gathered at this table in faith.  We think of preachers before us who have proclaimed the words of new life, and who have reminded each other of the promise of resurrection.  We remember those who are not at the table this year.  And we remember the great cloud of witnesses who will gather at the table in the kingdom to come.  Here at the table we boldly face death, and here at the table we each claim the promise of new life for ourselves and for our loved ones.
          Today we are challenged to unbind the power of death and to let it go.  We are challenged to boldly enter the world each day proclaiming a message of Easter.  Ours is a God of resurrection.  Ours is a God who brings life right into the midst of death.  Ours is a God who cannot be stopped by our excuses and our tears, but who boldly calls us out of tombs and into new life.
          Thanks be to God for all the Saints that have led the way into death for us.  And thanks be to God for the promised day when we will join together with them in resurrected life to feast at the table with our king in all his glory.  May we truly believe in this faith that we confess.  May we truly believe in life after death.  Amen.

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