Four Days Late and Still On Time

Scripture: John 11: 17 -27
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
November 1, 2015

So, out of curiosity, who had the most trick or treaters last night?  As children, we loved trick or treating, didn’t we?  My friends and I always competed with each other over who could get the most pieces of candy which is why I was disappointed and a bit confused when I went to one person’s home in our neighborhood and she said, “We don’t celebrate Halloween.  It is the devil’s holiday.”  And then she handed each one of my friends and me a religious tract.  The next year on Halloween we stayed away from her home.  But the truth of the matter is that there are some people, some churches who believe that Halloween is the devil’s holiday.  So, let’s set the record straight this morning.

Historically, Halloween is a derivative of All Hallow’s Eve.  The word “hallow” means “holy”.  All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween is the night before something sacred or holy, just like New Year’s Eve is the night before the New Year.

If Halloween was last night, then what is so sacred or holy about today?  It is All Saints Day or in other parts of the world, it is called Dia de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead).  It is a day in which we remember the saints and those who have passed from life to Life.  Historically, in order to scare away the evil spirits which also return to earth this day along with all the other souls, people would wear masks, dress up as ghosts, goblins and witches and light bonfires as a way to prepare for the good souls, the saintly souls to return to earth in peace.  Halloween is a victory celebration.

So, on this day, people around the world are celebrating and remembering their dearly departed loved ones.   Some go to cemeteries (and sometimes spend the night there) to communicate with the souls of the departed and build private altars, containing favorite foods and beverages as well as photos.  Celebrations can take a humorous tone as celebrants remember funny events and stories about the departed.  Some people will set an extra place at the dinner table for their departed loved one and fix his / her favorite food.  We gather in this service of worship, to light candles, to lift up prayers of thanksgiving, to display pictures and items of loved ones.

In our scripture passage this morning, we come face to face with a deeply grieving Martha.  Martha is the sister of a very dead Lazarus.  Martha confronts the one person whom she thought she could depend upon – Jesus.  “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  We have to admit that Martha has a point.  Already in the Gospel of John, Jesus has healed a blind man.  Already in the Gospel of John Jesus has been to the pool of Bethsaida where he has healed a man who has been paralyzed for 38 years.  Already in the Gospel of John, Jesus has been to Cana and turned water into wine.  Already in the Gospel of John, Jesus has met a desperate father who begged Jesus for his sick son to be healed and Jesus declared, “Your son will be well” and that very hour, we read, the fever had left him.  Yes, Martha’s got a point.  Martha says, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died…but now we have run out of time.”

It’s not like Jesus had a good excuse.  He didn’t say, “Oh, I would have loved to have been there, but I had the 5000 to feed.” No, Jesus had no excuse.  Jesus intentionally waited until it was too late.  Jesus didn’t go because he never intended to go.  John writes, “Even though Jesus loved Martha and even though Jesus loved Mary and even though Jesus loved Lazarus, when he heard that his friend Lazarus was ill whom he loved, he decided to stay 2 more days in the place where he was.  He intentionally waited until it was too late…until Lazarus had run out of time.

It is the 4th day.  The 4th day is the most intense day of grieving.  At that time, the Jews believed that that the soul hovered over the body for three days, but on the 4th day the soul departed.   Lazarus’ body is decomposing.  Death has won.  “It is a theological sign over this broken, suffering, tragic world that we are running out of time…all of us.”  (Tom Long, Annual Southern California / Nevada UCC Conference, June 2011)  “Lord, had you been here, my brother would not have died, but we have run out of time…”

Just at that moment when Lazarus and Martha and Mary and all of us have run out of time – just at that moment, Jesus says, “It is time to go in.”  And his disciples said, “Do not do this, there is death in there.”  And Jesus said, “This is not about death; this about the glory of God.”  

“Jesus will not participate in the atheistic anxiety of an age that believes it is running out of time.  And he went into the tomb of Lazarus as he goes into every tomb of hopelessness and stands at the door and says, “Come out, Lazarus, come out.  I am the Lord of time, not death. It is death that is running out of time, not life. It is despair running out of time, not hope.  It is sorrow that is running out of time, not joy.  I am the Lord of time.  Come out Lazarus, come out.” declares Jesus. (paraphrased from a sermon by Tom Long).

Deep within the tomb, Lazarus moved.  His stilled heart began to heat.  His wrapped eyes began to open.  Limp fingers lifted.  He kicked off the grave dirt and stepped out into the blinding light.  Jesus said, “Unbind him and set him free.”

Whether we believe this story to be literally true or symbolically true – there is Truth to this story for we worship a God who moves us toward new life, new hope, new possibility.    I heard about one woman who wanted to be buried with a fork in her hand.  She said that after all of her years of church potlucks, her favorite part was after the main course when someone would announce, “You can keep your forks.”  It was her favorite part because she knew that something better was coming, dessert was on the way.  By being buried with a fork in her hand, she declared to all that something better was coming after this earthly life.

Yes, I know that pain may be abundant, but it is not eternal.  Despair may be profound, but it does not have the last word.  Death is real, but it is not final.  God says, “Behold!  I make all things new.  There will no longer be death, nor crying, nor mourning any longer.  I make all things new!”

On this All Saints Day we celebrate that Jesus is Lord of time.  It is not hope running out of time; it is despair.  It is not peace running out of time; it is warfare. It is not love that is running out of time, it is hatred and apathy.  It is not joy that it is running out of time, it is sorrow. It is not justice running out of time; it is injustice. As remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we declare that it is death that is running out of time, not life.  For Jesus conquered death.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  As Jesus gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room, he led them to new life, new hope and new possibility, for he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and said …

**Thank you to Rev. Dr. Tom Long and his words at the Southern California/Nevada Conference Annual Meeting on June 4, 2011 who inspired today’s sermon.