(God is all about life. Death was never part of God's plan. Death is rooted in our human culture. God knows the change we humans have brought about by our sin, so when the scriptures says things like "Death is swallowed up by victory," it's talking about Jesus' coming among us to lead us away from our culture of death to a completely new culture of Life.")
Feast of All Saints, 2015
You might remember the Gospel story about the young man who decides to follow Jesus, but then asks Jesus if he can go and bury his dead father first. Now most of us would say "Of course. Go bury your father. It's a son's duty. But Jesus says something that seems so harsh to us: Jesus tells the young man to "let the dead bury their dead, but you, you come and follow me."
What is going on here? What does Jesus mean by his remarks to the young man? The first teaching to a new recruit is the most important. Jesus is teaching the young man that God is all about life and has nothing to do with the culture of death that is all around us and that captures all our attention 24/7. We're thinking about our own death, the death of our loved ones, if someone threatens our life or way of life we plan their demise. Victims of death are everywhere. Death or the fear of death makes the whole world go 'round and influences the actions of the nations. Jesus knows this and his coming among us was for one main purpose: To move us by a demonstration of his love away from the human culture of death to a Culture, a Kingdom of Life.
Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?
Remember how Jesus took his time when he heard that Lazarus had died? He loved Lazarus, but he didn't drop everything and run to Martha and Mary to pray the tomb. Where people/we see death, Jesus sees only life. He doesn't care about the stench. Take away the stone! Everyone is wailing. Jesus cries too, but it's mostly for sadness that they don't understand and continue in fear of death and blind to the life he brings.
The story of the raising of Lazarus is meant to take away our fear of death. The fear of death over and over again creates more pain and violence in the world: When you threaten to take away my life, I'll take steps to kill you.
Proof in point: Just 5 verses after our Gospel passage this morning, Caiphas and the Sanhedrin, feeling threatened by the story of Jesus' raising of Lazarus, gather together in fear. Caiphas makes the point that has been made over and over again since the Fall of Adam and Eve and the killing of Abel by Cain: You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.
This is the classic scapegoating formula from the beginning of human culture. This is the formula that Jesus and his followers must shun completely. They must learn to recognize it when they see or hear it and run from it. It is completely void of the Holy Spirit's presence and God's will.
The real secret of catholicity is revealed in Jesus: All local culture builds its borders by means of death- the death of victims. (Just think of the Conquistadors and their actions against the indigenous here in Antigua!) In great contrast, Jesus becomes a forgiving victim, by who by his death and Resurrection makes possible a new culture in this world that has no frontiers, and that maintains order, provides security, and finds its identity not by being over and against or excluding others, but by including everyone in ever expanding circles of mercy, forgiveness, and love.
God is a God of the living and not of the dead.
Today is All Saints. We remember the lives of all those who have gone before us in faith. Our human culture would say they died. But we, in our Jesus counter-culture, say: They are not dead, but, as the Book of Common Prayer says: They are alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord! Jesus, who rose from the dead and gives life to all mortal bodies. The ones we remember experience the blessed fruit of Jesus' catholicity. In their new life in God they experience in real time what Jesus came to bring: A culture of love and abundant life without end.
This is the "new heaven and new earth" that the Book of Revelation speaks about and that we pray in the Lord's Prayer: You kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Some day heaven and earth will be one. We do our small part to bring this about. Meanwhile we can trust in the words from the Book of Wisdom our alternate first reading today:
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.