Saints Restored

by the Rev. Paul Nancarrow. This sermon is based on John 11:32-44.

Mary said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And the people with Mary said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

But that’s the whole point of the story: Mary’s brother Lazarus did die. Jesus did not prevent him from dying.

Instead, Jesus did something much more remarkable: Jesus restored him to life.

And that is precisely the point of the story for us today, as we celebrate this All Saints Day, as we remember all the faithful departed, as we give thanks that our lives are caught up into the larger life of the Body of Christ. That is precisely the point of even using the word “saint.” The saints are the people whose lives Jesus restores.

I think sometimes we get the impression of “saints” as people who are so holy, so filled with devotion, so complete in blessing, that they somehow rise above all the hurt and pain and sadness and confusion and danger that is out there in the world as we know it. We think of the saints as being like the characters in that Good Samaritan window over there, who, even though they are beat up and in pain and deeply moved by compassion and physically laboring to lift someone up bodily to help, still have expressions on their faces that look completely serene, completely untroubled, as if they were somehow shielded from the very pain and compassion the story says they are supposed to be feeling.

I think sometimes we think of “saints” as people Jesus loves so much that Jesus protects them and always prevents anything bad from happening to them. And we wonder why we cannot be as “good” as that.

But that is not what this Gospel story today says. That is not what the entire Gospel message says. Lazarus was not protected; Lazarus was not prevented from dying; Lazarus was restored to life. Mary and Martha his sisters were not prevented from feeling sorrow; Mary and Martha were restored to joy. The good news of the Gospel is not that bad things will never happen to us; the good news of the Gospel is that no matter how bad things get, God in Christ by the Spirit will always open up some possibility of new good, God in Christ by the Spirit will always call us to come out and live in larger life.

And being a “saint” doesn’t mean rising above it all in serenity. Being a saint means trusting that, no matter how deep in it we get, God will do us good; and because we trust in that, being not not afraid to go do good with God.

That is the kind of sainthood we are invited to celebrate this All Saints Day.

Because All Saints Day is not just a celebration of the great heroes of the faith, the people of remarkable holiness, the ones they make the stained glass windows out of. All Saints Day is a celebration of all the saints, everyone who has been sanctified by becoming a member of the Body of Christ, all the people who are blessed because they are poor in spirit, and peacemakers at heart, and hungry and thirsty for righteousness. All Saints Day is a celebration of all of us – Peter and James and John and Mary and Mary Magdalene and Augustine and Monica and Thomas Aquinas and Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich and William Temple and Mother Teresa, yes, them of course – but also us, plain, ordinary, down-to-earth us – because we too are caught up into the larger life of the Body of Christ by the love of Jesus who restores us.

And for us, like Lazarus, like his sisters Mary and Martha, being saints does not mean that Jesus will automatically protect us and shield us and prevent bad things from happening to us. Being saints doesn’t mean that we will always be so serenely wrapped in prayer that we will never feel any pain, that we will never have to deal with loss and sadness and hurt and stench. Because those things are real, those things happen in a sinful and tragic world, and being a saint means above all being real with God and Jesus and the world.

But being a saint also means always looking beyond just those things, always looking to the good new possibility God can bring even out of this wreckage, always lifting things up in prayer that does not anesthetize the pain, but puts the pain in the context of something bigger – a hope that is full of immortality, a God who wipes every tear from every eye, a Lord who makes all things new, Jesus who unbinds us and lets us go free. Being saints doesn’t mean rising up above it all, but getting right down into the thick of it and there trusting in God to restore us in new life.

Where is God calling you to be that kind of saint today? Where does Jesus come to you, not in spite of the pain but because of it, not to prevent hurt but to heal it, to call you out of the darkness and let you go free? How are you a saint today because Jesus restores you to life?

For Rachael and Easton and Anne and Claire that call to be a saint takes a very special form today, as they are baptized, as they are made members of the Body of Christ and take a new place in this family of faith. And all of us today will recall our own Baptism, as we take this special occasion to renew our own baptismal vows. Baptism, you know, is a symbolic drowning. It is washing away of sin and cleansing, yes; it is anointing with oil and empowerment with the Spirit, too; but it is first a symbolic drowning, going down into deep water so that we can die there, and therefore come up out of the water a new person, living a new life, living a life restored by Jesus. Baptism is the sacramental exercise that teaches us how to go down deep into life – not rise above it but go down deep into it – and trust that Jesus will restore us there. Baptism calls us into the life where Jesus makes us his saints.

And so I pray that this baptismal renewal will call you deep into life today. I pray that Jesus will today restore your life. And I pray that you may celebrate this day with all the saints.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.