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All Saints' Day November 1, 2015 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
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All Saints’ Day  Proper 26 Year B
Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday November 1, 2015
The Rev. Samuel Torvend
 
 
In the year 1348, a wave of plague washed over Western Asia, North Africa, and Western Europe with such devastation that over 35% of population was wiped out: in rural areas 20%, in urban areas where people lived in close proximity to each other, 70%. So great was the mortality that bodies were stacked like firewood in the streets. And, then, in a society that did not enjoy the insight of modern medicine and its understanding of disease origin and communication, the majority began to think that such incredible devastation was God’s punishment for sin. Is this epidemic an accusation directed at immorality or apathy? Is it a terrible call to change our ways, become more religious, work harder to appease God’s perceived anger and earn God’s love once again? Such questions gave rise to the notion that if one were devout, lived a godly life, regularly attended church, prayed hard, and were generous that come the Day of Judgment one could at least hope for a merciful judgment from Christ, the judge of the living and the dead. Work hard and hope to be rewarded. It’s just common sense, right?
 
Within 150 years, however, the reformers who we know as Thomas Cranmer, creator of The Book of Common Prayer, Martin Luther, the irascible German theologian, and John Calvin of Switzerland, saw things differently. It was a shock to the system when the reformers argued that Christianity was never intended to be anxious religion. Calvin and Cranmer agreed with Luther that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is not the harsh critic just waiting for his children to screw up, but rather the gracious father who repeatedly makes an offer of Friendship, who invites his daughters and sons into loving relationship and asks them to extend this friendship into daily life. God’s desire for Friendship, so they preached, is offered in many ways but clearly in Holy Baptism, in the community of Christ’s sisters and brothers who are called to extend into daily life God’s gifts of life, health, and salvation. Indeed, Luther and Cranmer made two startling claims: the Day of Judgment actually happens on the Day of one’s Baptism. God comes with love to the person being baptized and to the one renewing his or her baptism, not punishment, with grace not accusation. The action of baptism and its renewal by God is a judgment in favor of you and me.
 
From this insight they claimed, and ask you and me to consider this: the resurrection begins not after death but at the moment one rises from the watery womb of the font. Against the conventional assumption of their culture and much contemporary Christian thinking, they suggested that walking in newness of life – Paul’s way of describing resurrection – actually begins now, in the present moment, not at the moment of death, not in some distant future, but now.
 
Martha complains to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But then, let us keep in mind that Martha is the voice of the early Christian community in John’s gospel; she is the voice of every Christian who grieves at the death of the beloved: “If only you had not left this earth at your ascension, if only you had stayed with us, there would be no death.” It is this assumption that Jesus corrects. Yes, he is, indeed, the Resurrection and the Life but resurrection does not mean the temporary resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus calls dead Lazarus forth into life as a sign that God is with and acting through Jesus. What he offered Lazarus in their friendship, what he offers you and me, what he has offered our beloved dead is not a respite from death but rather the transformation of life, your life and mine, the lives of your children and friends, now and in the future. The promise of eternal life does not, as we know so well, abolish death but rather invites us to lean into the presence of the ever-living and risen Jesus and let his presence animate our lives here and now and into eternity. It is the invitation to give thanks for our beloved dead for their giving birth to us, their living with us, for their labor or stubbornness or artistry or questions or love or perhaps for their simple capacity to put food on the table and thus sustain life – for any and all of these participate in the resurrection which is nothing less than the nourishment of life.
 
As the coffin holding my father’s body was lowered into the earth, his adoring and weeping grandson, my twelve year old nephew, turned to me and asked: Is papa with God now? Rex, I said, God has been with Grandpa from the moment he was born. God is with him in the grave and you and me right now standing on this very wet grass. And God will be with us and Grandpa and everyone in this world in the days and years to come. For wherever God is, there is heaven. He shivered, gave me a squeeze and very quietly said, OK. 
 
The LORD will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.