11/2/03 All Saints Sunday B
ur fantastic story surrounding Jesus’ tears at the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus begins when Jesus was across the Jordan River cloistered from the leaders of the Synagogue who had attempted to stone him during his last trip to Jerusalem. While there he preached to the gentiles and many came to believe in him. (10:42). During this time a message was delivered to Jesus informing him that his friend Lazarus was dead and that his sisters were calling for him to come to Bethany. Jesus waited two days to make the difficult journey up to Bethany, near Jerusalem. He attempted to explain to the Apostles that the death of Lazarus would be an opportunity to glorify God and proclaim his Messiahship, thus triggering the final episode of his life, but his followers could not yet see the big picture of what God was doing through His Son. Even the inner circle of three, Peter, James and John, who had seen him transfigured on the mountain could not understand, even after all this time following Jesus down the dusty paths of Palestine.
By the time Jesus arrived at Bethany four days had passed. Martha met Jesus with scolding words that reflected her disappointment, “Lord. If you had been here my brother would not have died.” (21). It was in this context that Jesus first repeated to her the familiar words that have become a part of our funeral ritual. I have quoted these words of comfort at nearly every one of the hundreds of funerals that I have led, “Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, though they die yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (25). Then Jesus asked her, “Do you believe this?” Martha only had a vague answer. As were all of the disciples before Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection Martha, and Mary, did not understand what was about to happen..
One of the most precious emotional events that Jesus models for us is his joining Mary and Martha in the shedding of tears at the tomb. “Jesus wept.,” verse 35, is the shortest verse in the entire Bible. Just two words to express his human heartache and his empathy with the sisters and their friends.
We too can identify with the sorrow of Mary and Martha because we have all been touched by death’s sharp arrow that has pierced our hearts. I grew up in a home with a framed photograph on the mantel of myself as an infant in my Dad’s arms under the funeral tent at my Uncle George’s grave. Our family’s beloved Navy Pilot uncle was killed toward the end of WWII and the family was terribly brokenhearted. I have always felt that tears are as natural as rain. Jesus’ tears were a real expression of his sorrow. It was another example of his sharing our pain. It is through these experiences that we see Jesus’ human side and how he fully identified with our plight.
Furthermore, we can say that Jesus still weeps with us in our sorrow. He joins us in the journey that often leads through dark valleys, and troubled times. He comes to us in emergency rooms and in hospital waiting rooms. He is there whenever we face situations that have no easy solutions. Indeed, the Word became flesh and weeps with us. Perhaps the most precious aspect of knowing him is that he always comes when adversity strikes. He does not kiss our skinned knee like a mother and take our pain away; but rather he shares in our pain and enables maturity of life and spiritual growth as a result of our finding victory through the crying times of life. We might even say that without pain there is no gain.
As events later unfolded, this story occurred just prior to what turned out to be Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem and to his own tomb, at which these same disciples would weep for him. We can assume that Jesus’ tears at the tomb of his friend were partly because he knew that the events that would lead to his own death would be detonated by his miracle of calling Lazarus forth from the tomb. Jesus knew that the Sanhedrin had set itself against him and that this truly Messianic sign would unleash a series of prophetic events. As one fully human, as well as fully divine, Jesus shared in our terror. Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, just prior to his betrayal and arrest, Jesus’ human agony was most apparent. (Mt. 26, Mk. 14).
Despite his human sadness and fear, Jesus boldly called out those famous words, “Lazarus, come forth!” And Lazarus came out of the tomb, his body still wrapped in burial cloth. The old preachers used to comment that if Jesus had not specifically called out Lazarus’ name, everyone in the graveyard would have come forth.
So, the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council and said, “What are we to do?” They were afraid that if Jesus were declared Messiah that the occupying Romans would think that the Jews were resisting and would destroy the leaders of the Jews and take away their limited authority. “So, from that day on they planned to put Jesus to death.” (53).
What was a threat to the Pharisees, is of great comfort to us on All Saints Sunday because it underscores the fact that Jesus has control over death and dying and because of that all of our tombs will soon be emptied. Christians believe that at death we go on immediately to be with God in Heaven, but that at the general resurrection of the dead our souls and bodies will be reunited. Thus, we can believe that ultimately all of our tombs will then be emptied.
The theme for our Annual Pledge Campaign to underwrite our Church Budget for 2004 is, “gratitude.” On All Saints Sunday we are able to truly say that among the many things that we are grateful for we have, “gratitude for glory!” Our hope of heaven is a benefit of the Christian experience that truly can not be received except from God, and we are so grateful for the deep assurance that lives in our hearts today, as we give thanks for the Saints who have outrun us to Glory.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor