One of our youth attending Catholic school lamented having to read a book called “The Lives of the Saints.” Seemingly a boring book about old dead people. It would seem to me however, that such a book is one that is still being written. When I was in seminary I was blessed during internship to meet a saint named Julius. A fascinating man who was the black sheep of the family because in the midst of generations of sainted pastors, he cut loose and became a lawyer instead. I met him in the hospital and his situation was grave. After I chatted awhile with him and his family, they stepped out so Julius could speak to me the things he needed to say. Thus began a series of conversations about life and death and life eternal, reminding ourselves that God’s promises of resurrection and new life are true. Because it’s all theory until those moments we have to try to believe. Then sometimes we need help to live faith and say resurrection is a word we can believe. Julius didn’t seem long for this life, but he pulled through. Several times I visited him and Louise in their apartment crammed full of art collected in world travels, all of Julius’ books, and tangled up walkers and oxygen lines. Our conversations about faith and culture left me feeling I was far richer than they were by our encounters. But then Louise became ill and rather suddenly died. I was blessed to share in her service of resurrection victory, but when we arrived with family at the nursing home chapel, we learned Julius had himself taken a turn for the worse. We may in fact lose him that very day. How hard to finish that service wondering his fate. I wondered how hard it was for Jesus hearing of Lazarus.
In his room, Julius was pale and weak. We cried with him as he wondered how life could go on. And I made the sign of the cross on his head, commending him into the hands of his Savior expecting full well the imminent outcome. Amazingly he recuperated, but was weakened. But my last Sunday at the church, he insisted his son come and help him get up and bring him to worship. This blessed 95 year old saint put on a suit, held onto his walker, and came to hear God’s words and be revived. Since then I’ve heard from Julius three times. The most recent was this past week. The day after the hurricane came through. I’d come to the church with no power or heat, water in the basement and alarm systems screeching, wondering how long it would be like that and how hard it would be to recover. There at the church office, still wet from the day before was the mail. For a moment I paused and thought about our postal carrier Sandy and her faithful witness to be out when most of us had packed it in. Looking through the mail, I came across a letter, hand addressed, from Julius. In it he noted it’d been about a year since we’d last been in touch, and that he’s been praying for our ministry. Then he went on to say he wants to give me his father’s stole. What a blessing to be connected not only to Saint Julius but to a saint who shaped his life. At 98 years of age, Julius is still busy saint-ing. Helping others grow in faith and be strengthened as disciples, as those who believe in the resurrection AND in the life. That letter revived me.
Today we gather to praise God and to give thanks for the saints we’ve known, and the saints of every age. To linger over names spoken and ponder their faithful witness. And it’s perhaps a time of tears and thoughts of loss. Maybe even hard to say “I believe” to Jesus’s words, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Surely we long for the beautiful words from Isaiah, echoed again in Revelation- a time without tears, when a new creation with God will come. Sometimes these words can seem like it’s just about remembering the past and waiting for the future. But there is more. All Saints Day is about connecting to God’s story in the lives of saints departed and living, and helping each other try to live those words “I believe.”
Today we hear the story of Jesus and Lazarus and Mary. Before it though was the one about Jesus and Lazarus and Martha. Jesus learned Lazarus is ill and by the time he arrives, Martha meets him and tells him he’s too late. It’s all passed. To which Jesus asks-do you believe in resurrection? Martha responds with the theory about the future. Jesus then tells her resurrection and life are real in him. Now. He meets her and helps her say again, “I believe.” But when Jesus encounters Mary, she responds in different way. She cries. Rather than lecture her, Jesus cries with her and then instead of telling her about resurrection, he does it. Telling Lazarus to get up and keep living. Jesus not only offers a future, he restores their present. We are Marys and Marthas and Lazaruses. Sometimes we need to talk and be reminded to believe, and sometimes we just want to cry, and sometimes we need to hear, “get up.” Jesus is present in all these moments, through saints living and past who show us resurrections start in this life. There will be losses and challenges, but yet God’s desire is that we be freed, and lifted up in this life. God uses us and fellow saints to show us this. Sometimes to help us believe, sometimes to comfort and sometimes to encourage us to get up and keep living.
For Mary and Martha and Lazarus, Jesus changed it all. But there would be many more moments of joy, fear and sadness where they probably took turns telling the story, walking together, pointing to Christ together. In their ordinary lives telling of the extra-ordinary power of Christ and trying to believe. We too are the very ordinary people God makes to be saints who take turns hearing and speaking across the ages as we all try to hold onto “I believe.” We have moments when we want to cry and when we hope to see. And moments when we need someone to unravel what is holding us down and help us get up. The saints across time were people with doubts, who needed to overcome sadness, who struggled. People whose lives had really lovely parts and a lot of other bits too. They were flawed, yet called saints and people of resurrection and life because Jesus said so. And this is also true for us, fellow saints. This is our common bond.
This is a place full of saints this day-as we are connected with the saints of every time through Christ, not only for a future day but so that we can live THIS life. Julius and I have taken turns reminding each other of this- Jesus is the resurrection- the promise of life eternal; and Jesus is the life-the power of resurrection starts now. And God continues to speak to, and to walk with, and to lift up to new life all of us, as people who by God’s hand, can “saint” others, and speak resurrection and new life together in God's story.
Let us give thanks for all who have blessed us, and share the rich story that God’s resurrection and life are words we can believe not only for the day when we will join the throng around the throne, but for today as we help each other live the words “I believe.”