All Saints Day

So you probably know – or maybe not – that one of the verses we have heard this morning in our Gospel is considered to be the shortest verse of all the Bible: “Jesus wept”. And what is interesting is that, if it is indeed a short verse, yet, there have been countless commentaries on these two little words. Most of the scholars in the world of theology, but also people like you and I, have been, over the ages, really puzzled that Jesus would cry at the death of his friend Lazarus. The thing that is so surprising for a lot of us is that Jesus, of course, should have known better than being sad. Jesus should have known better than being affected by the apparent sadness of it all, being God and knowing for sure what we only strive to believe: that death is not the end, that there is indeed a resurrection of the dead and a coming into glory for God’s children – as we remember on this feast of All Saints’.

So why was Jesus weeping? Well, most of the commentators of the Scriptures agree on the fact that this passage shows us “the human face of the Jesus”, his sensitivity. It is indeed to be noticed that Jesus is pretty emotional in this passage, and it is something rather unusual in John’s Gospel where Jesus appears to be always very in control of situations. For example, it is often that John mentions that Jesus “knew what people were thinking” or “what was going to happen”. Yet, here at the grave of Lazarus, Jesus for the first time seems to be overwhelmed by his emotions. Not only it is said that Jesus wept, but, it is also said that he was “deeply moved” and it is mentioned twice that he was “greatly disturbed”. So what’s going on here? Why would John show us an aspect of Jesus that is so out of the blue? Why would John, who always present us a Jesus with divine knowledge, show us suddenly a Jesus so vulnerable? Does John suddenly believe that he needs to concede a little humanity in Jesus? Or is it something else?

Well, as I thought about it, it seemed to me that John’s Gospel is overall so coherent in stating Jesus’ divinity that I had a sense that maybe what John was trying to say is that actually, tears and sorrow are not only human but also divine. It is in God’s nature to be deeply touched and moved by our grief and our pain.

As Christians we don’t always get that, most of the time we say that we believe that God is with us, but we mean in a physical way, like God came on earth in the person of Jesus. Yet, maybe a deeper understanding of the Gospel could bring us to realize that God is also inside of us in all that we experience and feel in our human lives. God is not watching us from above. This is I think what Jesus means when he proclaims throughout all John’s Gospel that He is the life. Life is about being moved and being touched. We have a tendency to downplay sensitivity and emotions, yet if we’d look at nature, from rocks to plants to animals to humans, we would notice that the more sensitive a being is, the more it testifies of a higher degree of intelligence. And so, as the highest form of being, I think that God is not just thinking God’s thoughts with plenty of wisdom, as we often imagine God is, but God is deeply sensitive and touched by everything that affect us. Sensitivity is not about raw emotions or sentimentality which can be pretty basic, but sensitivity is this ability to relate to another being, to put ourselves into their shoes, to let their lives touch us, to rejoice with them for their joys and to mourn with them for their losses. This is when we are sensitive, not so much when we are smart, that we can live a life of love. Life, at his highest level is deeply personal and connected, and so if Jesus says he is the life, it means that God literally “feel for us” because our God is the God of compassion.

Jesus wept. The God who saves us is also the God who weeps with us and share our deepest sorrows. Jesus is not faking sorrow “knowing better than to be sad” deep down. If the gospel proclaims that Jesus is God and that God is life, then we have to believe that God truly hurts when we are hurt or when we hurt one another. Jesus mourns with us, not because “he was also human after all”, but being life itself God is indeed suffering when life is hurt. If God is life, it means that God is truly devastated by the suffering of this world and God is devastated by death – we are not talking here of death as a biological process, we are talking here about how both our fear and fascination with death so often leads us as individuals and as a society to live in isolation, violence and despair. And yet, and this is where John’s story becomes really interesting: in the midst of all this devastating grief, Jesus, as much as he shares our pain, still has the power to save us – the power of life overcoming the power of death.

Today, as we commemorate All Saints’ Day, this is what we are really called to believe and to rejoice about. We have visions of the heavens in the Scriptures, and countless books have been written about people visiting the after life and coming back to give an account of it. I don’t know about that, I think a lot of it was probably inspired by some kind of experience, but I don’t think the church asks us to believe this or that about heavens and how it looks like. I think that what the Gospel teaches us is that the power of life is greater than the power of death, and so, even in those times when we hurt more than we can say, we are truly called to receive the assurance that in the end, we won’t be overcome and defeated. You know, John could have simply shared in his Gospel about Jesus’ death and resurrection, but here, just before starting to tell the story of the passion of Jesus, John tells the story of Lazarus. And I think he gives this account to make a point, that death and resurrection, it’s not only the story of Jesus, it is the story of all of us, of all the Saints. Jesus opened the eyes of the blind and today he gives us a peek on what’s behind the stone of the grave, what’s behind the curtain of this world: Life eternal given to all, if only we are willing to receive it. It’s not only that physical death is not the end for us and our loved ones, it also means that God can always bring us back to life from whatever deadly place we have fallen into.

In the story, Martha mentions that Lazarus has been dead for four days, and it is really important, not just a detail. The Jews at Jesus’s time used to believe that the souls of the deceased were still around for three days, but after that, they were gone for good. And so when Jesus raises Lazarus after he has been dead for four days, when his body already “stinks”, it means that God can still act when all hope is gone. It means that God can truly heal our biggest wounds and can comfort us from our deepest sorrows, and God can indeed “wipe away every tears from our eyes” not because God is a magician, but because God is life, and life is more powerful than anything else. Certainly, you have already experienced some of this work of life inside of you. Maybe you’ve been crushed by a heartbreak, brought to your knees by an addiction, maybe you lost somebody who was everything to you, and yet today you’re at church because you still found the courage to carry on, you found enough life inside of you and around you to keep you going, as difficult as it might have been be…

Well, I think that’s really the work of God inside of us overcoming the power of death – and what happens in this very life in all our little resurrections is like the physical resurrection of Lazarus: As wonderful as it is, it is still only an image of what happens after this world have passed away, when death is completely overcome, not temporally, but truly for ever destroyed.

So let’s remember that as we draw near to the altar to receive the anointing of the oil. There is nothing God can’t heal us from, there is no pain God can’t redeem. Once again, it’s not magic, but when we have faith, we can truly start witnessing and experiencing the power of life over death. And this is what we are called to do when we celebrate All Saints’. To become a sign of life in a culture of death, a culture too often marked by violence, fear and selfishness. Each time we open up to one another, each time we mourn with one another, each time we rejoice together, each time we let God calls us out of our tombs, we will bring a sign of hope to the world, not a fake hope that display mindless optimism but we will bring the hope of those who have truly suffered, those who, because they know that there is a way beyond suffering also know that there is a way beyond death. Amen.

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