This Sunday was a special Sunday in the life of the church. It was All Saints’ Day – the day we celebrate and honor and remember those whom we have loved and lost. In this week’s post, I’m including the short message and Scripture reading, but I’m also including that remembrance portion of our worship service as well as the benediction.
I’m also including a few pictures from our sanctuaries. Throughout October, we left 12″x9″ sheets of colorful tissue paper out along with black markers and gave people the chance to write the name of deceased loved ones on those sheets. In preparation for this Sunday’s service, we hung all those colorful name banners up in the sanctuary. I love using these tissue paper sheets for a number of reasons. First, they are incredibly colorful, reminding us of the brightness and joy that our loved one brought to our lives. Also, because they’re tissue paper, they move with the slightest breeze, reminding us that the love and the spirits of those whom we have lost still move in our lives and in our hearts.
First Congregational UCC – Zumbrota
The Presbyterian Church – Oronoco
Sermon: Being Mary AND Martha
When we talk about Mary and Martha, we usually talk about the Biblical story in which we pit one sister against the other: Martha the hard worker with the slightly skewed priorities who busies herself with meal preparations for their guests vs. Mary the spiritually devoted but domestically neglectful sister who instead chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet. But today’s story of these two sisters is a different one. Mary and Martha are not pitted against one another but instead are united … united in grief. [READ John 11:1-44]
- History of All Saints’
- Begun as far back as 373 C.E. in some way
- Connected to doctrine of Communion of the Saints – belief that all God’s people, in heaven and on earth, are spiritually connected and united
- Recognized and canonized saints but all those saints that we encounter – parents, grandparents, neighbors, teachers, spouses, children, siblings, friends
- Days when the Church honors and celebrates all saints, known and unknown
And even as we celebrate and honor and remember those we love – those saints that have touched our own lives – like Mary and Martha, we would desperately love to see them, hear them, hug them, laugh with them again. We find ourselves both Mary and Martha in this. In those moments of longing so desperately for our loved ones, haven’t we come to God and Jesus ourselves saying, “Where were you? What took you so long? God, if you had been here, my brother … sister … mother … father … daughter … son … husband … wife … cherished friend would not have died!” I want you to pull out your pew Bibles for a minute and read those few verses to yourself – verses 20-21. [pause] How do you hear Martha’s voice in your own head? Or Mary’s voice when she asks the exact same question in verse 32? Is it pleading? Is it resigned? Is it desperate? Is it accusing? Is it numb? It is hopeful? One of the most powerful things about this Scripture story is that we can so easily read ourselves into it. In the face of grief and loss – in the face of death itself – how do we approach God?
- Different situations, days, hours, minutes – may be different approaches → Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance
- Each of these approaches can be read into this story, depending on where we are in our own grieving process.
In thinking about how we approach, we also begin to think about who we approach. Jesus’ role in this story is also incredibly powerful. It’s easy to first be angry and frustrated with Jesus. He gets word that his dear friend Lazarus is gravely ill, and instead of rushing to his bedside to perform one of his miraculous healings, Jesus waits … and waits … and waits. He has a discussion with his disciples about how this is going to be a great teaching moment for them: “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping, but I am going in order to wake him up.” The disciples said, “Lord, if he’s sleeping, he will get well.” They thought Jesus meant that Lazarus was in a deep sleep, but Jesus had spoken about Lazarus’ death. Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died. For your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you can believe. Let’s go to him.” Once Jesus as this disciples finally arrive at Bethany, Jesus even ventures to use this awful moment as a teaching opportunity for Martha: Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I want to shake Jesus at this point! Martha’s pain is raw. She is grieving the unexpected death of her brother, and in confronting the one person whom she truly believes could have done something about it – really done something – Jesus uses this painful and desperate moment to extract a declaration of faith. And yet doesn’t it always seem that those moment of greatest desperation also bring out our own strongest declarations of faith?
But then we come to the turning point in our story. Jesus is taken to the tomb by Mary and Martha. Mary declares along with her sister, “Lord if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Jesus sees Mary (and most assuredly Martha) weeping, overwhelmed by grief. He sees the other villagers weeping and grieving Lazarus as well. And Jesus finds himself standing at the tomb of his dear friend. And he is overcome: When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. He asked, “Where have you laid him?” They replied, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to cry. … Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. Before he fulfills that teachable moment that he had described to the disciples and, to some extent, to Martha, Jesus is overcome by the emotion and the loss and the despair of the moment, and he weeps. Jesus weeps. In this moment, we encounter a Savior who understands the pain and grief we ourselves feel in the face of loss. We encounter a Savior who understands pain and sorrow and desperation. We encounter a Savior who knows exactly what it means to lose someone near and dear. Jesus weeps.
But we also get a glimpse of the eternal hope of our faith. The story does not end with Jesus weeping but with the resurrection of Lazarus and Jesus words: “Father, thank you for hearing me. I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” We encounter a Savior who defeats death over and over again to bring us eternal life after this one – who in the face of the finality of death, “Untie him and let him go! Untie her and let her go! I have given my life so that you may live. Go and be with the Holy One and all the saints forevermore.” And so even in the face of death itself, we have hope. We have power. We have life. Amen.
Honoring and Remembering the Ones We Love
Lighting the Center Candle – We used a plain white pillar candle to signify the lives of our deceased loved ones. They have been lights in our lives – strong lights, warm lights, bright lights.
Moment of Silent Remembrance
Bearing the Light – Everyone had a small, individual candle which they brought up and lit from the flame of the larger pillar candle. After returning to our seats, we sang “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry,” a favorite hymn for many during those pivotal moments in our lives of faith – baptism, confirmation, marriage, and at funerals.
After finishing the hymn, I blew out the light in the larger pillar candle while everyone’s smaller candles remained lit: Our loved ones may no longer be with us, but look around you. Their love, their light, their spirits are still a part of our lives shining through us. We take a part of them with us no matter where we go or what we do, and we can choose to share the impact that they made on our lives – share that light – with others as well. We can choose to create for them a legacy of love, of warmth, and of strength.
Proclaiming the Good News Together (based on Isaiah 25:6-9)
One: On this mountain, the HOLY ONE of heavenly forces will prepare all peoples.
Many: God prepares a rich feast, a feast of choice wines, of select foods rich in flavor, of choice wines well refined.
One: The HOLY ONE will swallow up on this mountain the veil that is obscuring all people, the shroud covering all the nations.
ALL: God will swallow up death forever. God will swallow up death forever. God will swallow up death forever!
One: The HOLY ONE will wipe tears from every face.
Many: God will remove the people’s disgrace from the whole earth, for the HOLY ONE has spoken.
One: They will say on that day,
Many: “Look! This is our God, for whom we have waited – and God has saved us! This is the HOLY ONE, for whom we have waited.
ALL: Let us be glad and rejoice … let us be glad and rejoice … let us be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation!”
 Jn 11:11-15 (CEB).
 Jn 11:23-27 (CEB).
 Jn 11:33-35, 38.
 Jn 11:41-44.