(Year B) Isaiah 25: 6-9, Rev. 21: 1-6; John 11: 32-44
Grace and peace to you on this morning, one of the great festivals of the Church Year, and certainly for many years now around St. Andrew’s the centerpiece of a high season of worship and music—and with thanks to Tom Octave and all our choir and our orchestral musicians this morning for such exceptional and graceful offerings. The weekend beginning this past Thursday evening with our own I think unique service of All Saints Lessons and Carols and then last night with the spectacular organ recital of our guest organist Joseph Nolan, who is Organist and Master of the Choristers at St. George’s Cathedral in Perth, Australia, and who before taking that position was Organist to Her Majesty’s Chapels Royal of St. James’s Palace, in London. The position he held the last time he played here at St. Andrew’s. And Pete Luley, who pulls this all together somehow every year, Carrie Smith and our friends of the Music Guild, Jen Palmer, George Knight, Joan Soulliere, Jinny Fiske and the hospitality crew, Becky Usner. As always, the list just goes on and on.
Abundant thanks, as we are truly surrounded by a Great Cloud of Witnesses, Christian friends in this moment of our lives, loved ones, family and friends, mentors, neighbors and heroes, who have gone on into Greater Life before us, and I think always as well with an awareness of those who will come after us, in this place, and in the life of the wider Church as it is called together generation by generation by our Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is for us this morning when you get right down to it, when you see right through this moment to its deepest meaning and message, the heart of things, all about the Cross on Friday and the Empty Tomb on Easter Sunday morning and then the great crescendo and climax at the Mount of the Ascension, as our Risen Lord and Savior is exalted to his eternal place at the Right Hand of the Father to judge and to rule from henceforth and for all time past, present, and future with his perfect gentleness and his perfect justice, his grace and peace. Cosmic. It is for us this morning all about his great and final Victory over Death and the Grave, the forces of Evil, the dark power of corruption and decay that would turn us and all the created order against God. All about his Victory, both for us each of us in our individual personhood, as we experience that victory personally in the hope now of resurrection, in the courage and faith that give us strength to live our lives in the comfort of a reasonable and holy hope, in the joyful expectation of eternal life with those we love.
For us personally, but not only for us personally, but in the assurance of the great victory and transformation in Christ of the whole of creation. That the miracle of that midnight in Bethlehem and all the songs of the angels echo to the farthest corners of the most distant corner of creation. The hopes and fears of all the years. The incarnation that points us to the great morning of St. John’s vision, in the 21st chapter of his Revelation, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away . . . . And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them, and be their God.’”
That is something to sing about! All the music that can be offered up in the story of our lives. The Victory of Jesus, his triumph, his continuing presence. In our lives. In his Church. Reaching out through us to the wide world in the power of the Spirit. What it is that every saint and hero does for us, tells us about. The sermon every one of them preaches from start to finish, not only with their lips, but in their lives. Talking the talk and walking the walk.
And filling our hearts with the truest of hopes, as we pray “thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.” For that day, as the Prophet said, when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
The saints remind us of that, as they inspire in us a desire to live holy lives. Hints and clues and anticipations of the Kingdom coming in Christ Jesus. Our one true hope. When you hear about them, read about them, meet them, to say, “Boy, I want some of that.” Who are the saints like that for you? Again, famous heroes of the faith, or a father or mother, a grandmother, a neighbor, a friend.
All about the Victory of his love. The saints of the Red Letter Days on the calendar, and even more, actually, the saints you meet in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea. As the song goes. One was a soldier, and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast, and there’s not any reason, no not the least, why I shouldn't be one too.
This dramatic confrontation. High noon. All the powers of sin and death in their vast numbers and pervasive presence. And Jesus. And the three words that echo against the sky and for all eternity: Lazarus, come out. And the enemy takes flight. His power disappears, as when the sun begins to shine over the morning fog. In Jesus, God’s victory, and our victory.
His Body is Bread for the whole world. His blood a new promise of God’s faithfulness and love, poured out not for the few but for the many. A great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues.
My prayer is that we will each one of us know that this morning. That this will be a blessing for you. A sign of our citizenship in the new Jerusalem of God. The healing and forgiveness, mercy and grace, of our Lord Jesus Christ. A spirit of joy and wonder. For us. You and me. His Holy Spirit. We would kneel this morning alongside the apostles and prophets and martyrs of every age, past, present, and those of years and generations to come, known only to God.