November 1 or November 3, 2024
Isaiah 25.6-9 — On this mountain God will make a feast… and swallow up death.. and wipe away tears
Psalm 24 —The earth is God’s… The king of glory enters!
Revelation 21.1-6 — The new heaven and new earth. Death will be no more. “Behold, I make all things new.”
John 11. 32-44 —Jesus raises Lazarus.
The prophet foresees the coming war, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dominance of ruthless people—and yet beyond that, a great feast symbolizing God’s establishment of a new reality that will “swallow up” death and destruction — not just for Israel but for all the world, as one community. It’s a defiant vision of hope in the face of calamity and the threat of despair. Isaiah refuses to despair. We can see this as a vision of a possible future outcome of human history.. but it can also be a vision of the deeper reality that we are part of even now, though we can’t see it. Despite our wars and violence, despite our ravaging the earth and abusing and exploiting people, God prepares a feast of Life for us; God frees us from the shroud of our fear and selfishness; God removes our disgrace; God wipes away our tears. Even death itself is swallowed up in God’s love. Imagine that this is happening, not just in the future, but now, in a dimension we can’t comprehend.
John foresees a new reality—not just among human nations, but the entire cosmos: a new Creation. It is symbolized, as in Isaiah, by the city of Jerusalem, the intimate presence of God, and the end of death and sorrow. The “water from the springs of the water of life” remind me of Jesus’ promise in John 3: “The water I give will become in them a spring of living water gushing up to eternal life.” As with Isiah’s vision, we can see this as a future prediction, or a description of the afterlife, but it might also be a vision about the grace of God that is with us always. Maybe the “new heaven and earth” are wheat we experience with the renewal of our consciousness, a new way of seeing reality, when we re in Christ. Somehow, in inexpressible ways, at the heart of existence is this shining love, this tender compassion, this loving presence. “Heaven” is not “up” but in. At the center of our lives God is present, making all things new, wiping away our tears, gathering up our suffering and our failure in God’s mysterious grace, continually giving us the water of life. Maybe in ways beyond our comprehending, “It is done!”
I assume this passage was chosen for the lectionary for All Saints Day because, like the other readings, it gives us hope that people we love who have died still have a bright future, and that maybe we will get to see them again. That’s OK with me. Maybe All Saints Day needs to be sort of a general funeral for everybody we have loved and lost. If your people need to hear that, go there.
But this story doesn’t take me to the afterlife. It brings me face to face with mortality and grief. Maybe the significant thing about this story for All Saints is not that Lazarus (and also your dear grandmother) will be raised to life again at some point, and there will be death no more—but that the saints of God are those who live life in the face of death and who love even in times of grief.
“Jesus wept” —because he loved Lazarus, and loved Mary, and being deeply and profoundly human, his heart was broken. Here’s a picture of God with us: not magically fixing thing, but broken-hearted, standing beside us, weeping with us at our losses. People complain about that: “Couldn’t he have kept him from dying?” And Jesus’ tears seem to silently answer: “No. I can’t keep anyone from dying. I can’t prevent you from suffering. I can’t fix things like you want. But I can love you and be with you.” As much as we fight it, this is God’s word to us. God doesn’t seem to prevent tragedy; it keeps right on happening. But God is with us, and God’s heart breaks with us. Isn’t this some of the message of the cross? That God shares our pain, endures our losses, knows our suffering? The saints of God are the ones who trust this and carry on, even when loss is huge and grief is heavy. They don’t try to “be strong.” They are real. They grieve. They show love. They don’t try to “make sense” of loss and suffering (remember Job?); they simply trust that life is good even when it hurts.
The good news, the healing, the miracles even, only come after the grieving. When Martha hesitates about opening the tomb because it will stink she touches that fear we have that grief is bottomless. If we face it, it will hurt too much. “Don’t get me started, “ we say, “or I’ll cry and never be able to stop.” We’re afraid of making a big stink. But Jesus assures us that this grieving, this work of facing our losses, staring into the grave, opening up our wounds, leads to glory. The saints of God are those who face mortality and live radiantly.
… And the dead man came out. Clearly, not actually dead, at least not any more. Maybe the saints of God are those who have heard the voice of Christ calling them out of their dead places, calling to something in them that has died, something that maybe they feel they have lost, but that God treasures. Maybe the saints are those who come out of old dead places, who leave lifeless things behind, who allow themselves to be unbound snd set free. Maybe what it means to be one of the saints of God is to allow God, with great love and a broken heart, to call us out of old lives into something new and unprecedented… and we come: awkward, still bound up in the rags of death, but willing, and alive in a new way.
Call to Worship
For all the saints who have led us through the ages, we praise you.
For all the saints in our own lives
who have loved us and shown us your grace, we thank you.
With all the communion of saints, we glorify you.
Alleluia! God of all the saints, transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Leader: God, you have sent us saints who have guided and inspired us; and we thank you.
All: You have given us saints who have loved and us and transformed us. We praise you.
May we be your saints, shining with your light, radiant with your love.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Leader: God, you call us from death to life.
All: We hear your voice, and something in us wakens.
You call us out of lifeless places, into the light of your grace.
We hear your voice, and something in us rises.
You call us to be unbound, to be free, to be new.
We hear your voice,
and something in us enters into your new day.
We praise you. We worship you. We give you thanks. Amen.
Collect / Prayer of the Day
Gracious God, we give thanks for the saints who have gone before us: people of all ages, even children, who have shined a light on the way with their love. Make us holy with the same love they had. Help us to hear your Word and to be changed by your Spirit in us, sanctified for your purposes, in the name of Christ. Amen.
God of love, in the company of your saints, we are lifted by their faith. With them we are warmed by your grace and led by your Spirit. Sanctify us with them: restore in us our true, holy calling as your beloved people. May love be our worship; love be our lives. Amen.
Beautiful God, we are brought together in your grace. We are blessed in one another’s company. We are transformed by your Word. Speak to us, and help us listen with our deepest hearts, so that we may become more and more ourselves, more true to the glory you have planted within and among us, and more faithful to one another. In your embodied Word, Christ living among us, come, Lord, and speak. Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
peering into our tombs,
and something in us hears.
The Lazarus in us listens.
[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
Blessed are you, O God, Creator of all and all that is to come.
By your grace you have given us life and made us a people.
You have surrounded us with saints,
women, children and men who have rejoiced in your grace,
shared in your work of redemption,
and shined with your love and lit the way for us.
They have worked for justice; they have offered healing;
they have been examples of mercy, faith and love.
You have gathered us into the community of the redeemed,
and given us as a light to the nations.
Therefore together with the whole communion of saints,
who gather with us art this table,
and in union with all Creation, we sing your praise:
[Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.
[or alternate version]
Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who showed us the way of love,
and who died for us in love,
so that as your saints we might live in love.
He preached good news to the poor,
he lifted up the downtrodden and gathered the outcast,
and recognized what in us was holy
and worthy of following in the way of compassion and joy.
Worthy is Christ, who by his grace has gathered for you
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have called us to share in the inheritance
of the saints in the light,
and in the dominion of your beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
[… The Blessing and Covenant …] *
In this meal Christ sanctifies us once again,
offering us love, calling us to love,
and inviting us into Christ’s death and resurrection.
In Christ’s dying and rising
you have sealed the lives of your saints.
In thanksgiving we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
[Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
Christ will come again in glory.
Pour out your Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the Body and Blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that as the Body of Christ we may embody your love.
Raise us to new life, sanctify us by your grace,
and make us perfect vessels of your love..
In communion with Christ and all the saints,
we offer our lives as a living sacrifice,
that we may uplift one another in the ministry of the gospel
and fulfill the sacred purpose
for which you have sent us in your name.
[Spoken or sung]
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us,
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,
saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion
[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for
the mystery that you give yourself to us /
this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.
You have raised us to new life in the death and resurrection of Christ; you have made us whole in your love, united us as one body in your grace, and sanctified us by your Spirit. Together with all your saints, send us out to love, to serve, to live in the new world of your grace, in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.
(Click on titles to view songs and hear audio clips on the Music page.)
Blessed [Original tune. Includes 4-part version for choir]
Dear God, receive me anew, mourning and poor in my soul,
hungry for what makes me whole.
Bless me by making me simple like you.
Refrain: Blessed are the ones who have nothing but God,
for God and God alone shall fill their lives.
Mercy please grant me anew. Make my heart pure by your grace,
humble, that I may see your face.
Bless me by making me gentle like you. Refrain
Courage please give me anew, peace in the world to make,
and to suffer for your Gospel’s sake.
Bless me by making me faithful to you. Refrain
Eternal Life [Original tune. Includes 4-part version for choir.]
This is how we will know eternal life:
we will love one another.
I lay down my life, all that is mine alone,
that we may be raised together.
We are not bound by any earthy thing
when our lives we surrender to God
whose love is eternal life,
and so we will love one another.
For Your Saints [ Tune: Joyful, Joyful]
God, we thank you for your saints and for their time among us here,
In their faith, their service and their ready smile we’ve felt you near.
In their steadfast love of others and their persevering grace,
we have known your living presence; we have seen your human face.
God, we thank you for the faith that lifts our hearts and lights our way,
for your hidden, healing presence walking with us day by day.
As we face death’s shadows, still we walk with courage and with love,
persevering in the faith that you have granted from above.
“Children, I will never leave you or forsake you,” you have said.
You have been our helper, God, so there is nothing that we dread.
By your grace that never fails us, guide, sustain and lead us on,
‘till we step with grateful hearts into the light of heaven’s dawn.
God Bless the Saints [Tune: Blest Be the Tie that Binds ]
God bless the saints we’ve known,
who loved us through the years,
who shared our struggles and cherished our joys
and held us and wiped our tears.
God bless the teachers and guides
whose wisdom brightens our days,
whose courage lifts our struggling hearts,
and shines your light on our ways.
God bless the quiet ones
who serve in humble ways
without their seeing the fruit of their faith,
yet live in prayerful praise.
God, help us be your saints
who trust your loving grace,
that we may be a holy blessing
in our own time and place.