November 7, 2021: Sermon Preached by The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector

All Saint, Year B                                                The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector

Last Sunday we celebrated the Vigil for the Eve of All Saints’. This week, as my heart swelled on All Souls Day, the day we remember those we love who now rest in God’s eternal love, I found myself dwelling on my ancestors. I reflected on the ways in which my ancestors, especially my grandparents, still come to me in mystical ways. Reminding me they love me, or that there is beauty in every morning, that I am formed time and time again by them as I remember them. 

I dragged out this photo album that my mom made for me a handful of years ago. Some are ancestors I never knew, and yet I see traces of myself in the sepia and black and white images of them. Those I knew, grandparents and my great aunts and uncles, I feel their wisdom lingering within my being in stories and lessons. There is one picture that I always spend a good amount of time with. It is of my great aunts whom I am named after, my Kathryn from Aunt Kitty and my Elizabeth from Aunt Betty. They are drenched in love in this close up and rather intimate image of the two of them leaning on one another, smiles etched in their faces for all time. This picture is a classic reflection of their sister nicknames, “a drip and a drop”. This photo album became a shrine of sorts as I spent time with it. The little ‘s’ saints of my heart have been so important in my own growth and development, and today I proclaim again that they still are. I am still gaining wisdom from them. Both from the beautiful memories, and the hard ones. A connection to the Communion of Saints. 

Later in the week this pondering on my ancestors connected all too wonderfully with a reading from a Shambala book that Phil has passed along. In referencing cultures that set up shrines to their ancestors: “You may think such practices are purely a function of primitive thinking or superstition, but in fact, the veneration of your ancestral lineage can be a sign of respect for the accumulated wisdom… it is necessary to appreciate that, for many thousands of years, human beings have been collecting wisdom” (Trungpa, 95).  

Today in John, we see Jesus arrive too late to save Lazarus from death. Though you might note if you look earlier in chapter eleven, Jesus says that he is delaying his arrival to Mary and Martha’s town so that God may be glorified. In the larger arc of this narrative, only seven of the forty four verses of this miracle story of raising from the dead actually take place at the tomb. Which leads us to ponder how much of this story is actually supposed to be focused on Lazarus? Perhaps, this moment is the climax within this story that helps to point to the bigger lesson or lessons for us this week (WBC, 523).

I am immediately drawn in by the faith of Mary and Martha. And I soak up the wisdom collected by them. Mary is reflecting true faith in Jesus and the promise of new life and resurrection she can already see in him when she says, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. 

His response to her words and her tears, are his own tears and a rise of emotion. This is the only time in John where we see such strong emotion ascribed to Jesus (JANT, 181). Yes, the tears of Jesus can be seen as his sadness in losing his friend, and it can also be seen as a lament for the “destructive power that death still has in the world… the pain of this family reminds Jesus of the pain in this world” (WBC, 524). And further still, perhaps the tears are not just in sadness over the pain of the world, but even anger, his being distrubed, that folks are still missing what he is up to. 

As Mary and Jesus make their way to the tomb we get a sense in Martha’s response to moving the stone, that she has previously expressed faith in the power of Jesus, and in being reminded of that, stands firm in that faith as they roll back the stone. We get a sense from these women, Martha and Mary, that they in fact have a better understanding of faithful discipleship than even Jesus’ disciples that are traveling with him (TBC, 347). Theologian Gail O’Day writes, that here in John, “the initiative of these women in sending for Jesus, their bold and robust faith, the grief and pain that they bring to Jesus, their willingness to engage Jesus in conversation about life, death and faith, their unfaltering love for Jesus are marks of discipleship” (WBC, 524). 

It is in the wisdom of their faith that this climatic moment of Lazarus walking out comes into being. This entire story is not so much about Lazarus being raised, but that Jesus transforms the meaning of death and so too life. As Lazaurs walks out of the tomb we are reminded of the fullness of new life for those who believe (WBC, 524), and that is the point here. Not just that he comes out at the command of Jesus, but that there is new life in faith. “Through faith in Jesus, death loses its power and life gains new power” (WBC, 524). Jesus creates a new world here, where death is not abolished but overcome and given new meaning (TBC, 347). 

We are reminded to, “…live as though the Eternal were now because God is. Live as though death has no power over your days. Live as though you belong, in life and death, to God (FOTW, 240). Choosing to follow Jesus is like hearing him call to us from the dark tomb, and stepping out into the light of faith. This then brings me to hear the phrase “unbind him” to be steeped in liberation in a new way. All of this brings a new meaning to living our faith in the Communion of Saints. 

Every time we meditate on our Saints and ancestors we are invited to grow anew in the fellowship of the Communion of Saints. Every time we kneel at the feet of Jesus and weep, we wash ourselves in the Communion of Saints and the discipleship of Mary and Martha. Every time we choose to walk out of the tomb and into our faith, we walk in the Communion of Saints as those who belong to God. Every time we come to the Table, we worship in that faith of Jesus with the Communion of Saints. May our inherited wisdom, and the wisdom of Mary and Martha bring us to more profoundly live as we belong to God, as members of the Communion of Saints. May we hear Jesus call, and may we all walk out of the tombs of our hearts and into a deepening of faith and life. 

Resources: Feasting on the Word, Jewish Annotated New Testament, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Women’s Bible Commentary