Welcome to worship for this All Saints Sunday, November 7, 2021!
The worship bulletin can be found here. The bulletin of course will have the order of worship and all the words to the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon manuscript. The sermon is also included below the video.
If you wish to enhance your worship at home, you can have a lit candle in your space, as well as something small to eat and drink for communion. You may also light a candle for those that you’ve loved and lost, as a way to honour the saints with the whole church on this All Saints Sunday.
May God’s healing and wholeness shine in and through your lives always!
Almighty God, your Word is life and your promises are trustworthy and true. By the power of your Spirit, write your Word upon our hearts, that we might see your new creation in us, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
I’m hoping that this line sounds familiar, as you just heard it read to you like 30 seconds ago. It was of course Jesus’ words to the likely gaped-mouthed bystanders watching formerly deceased Lazarus walking out of his own tomb.
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
A strange command, if you think about it. However, the whole situation was kind of strange. Not every day you see your friend come back from the dead.
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
So now you might be wondering one of two things. First is, “why does he keep repeating that line?”
And second, “what is the significance of Jesus saying this?”
We might be pretty familiar with this story out of John’s gospel, the raising of Lazarus. It’s a bit pared down today for All Saints, but we might know the general outline: Jesus gets word that his friend Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, is on his deathbed. But instead of going over right away, Jesus inexplicably waits a few days before heading over there, which proved to be too long as Lazarus had already died by the time Jesus arrived. The sisters of course are torn up but don’t exactly blame Jesus, but do mention how he should have gotten there sooner. And Jesus is moved by emotion and weeps. And then after telling the people to open up the tomb Jesus calls Lazarus to come out. And as we know and much to the surprise of everyone present, Lazarus actually does. Then Jesus tells them to unbind him, and let him go.
And for some reason as I read this story this time around, my eyes landed on that line. I mean, the whole “unbind him” part makes sense, as the text was pretty clear that Lazarus was wrapped in strips of cloth from head to toe, mummy style. But let him go? Let him go from what?
Was Lazarus facing some sort of oppression? Other than death that is, as Jesus had already freed him from that. But was there something that was holding Lazarus back from being able to go? Again, aside from death. Was there something keeping Lazarus from being free?
I also find it interesting that Jesus was telling the people to unbind Lazarus and let him go. It was Jesus who raised him from the dead, after all, why can’t he unbind him himself? The people already warned Jesus that the body wasn’t going to be smelling all roses, but Jesus did what Jesus did anyway. And why can’t Jesus be the one to let him go? He already resurrected him, allowing him to go should be easy, right?
Well, this is what I’m wondering… I wonder if what Lazarus needed to be let go from belonged to the people. Again, we can see that it doesn’t belong to Jesus, as Jesus already freed Lazarus from death. So then perhaps whatever it is that is still holding Lazarus back has its onus on the people. The people with their narrow minds and set paradigms. The people with preconceived notions and predetermined beliefs. The people whom resuscitation from the dead just didn’t sit well with. Let him go.
And so I wonder in our lives, is there something that is keeping us from being free? Is there something that is holding us back from doing the thing or saying the stuff or being at the place? Is there something or someone who is preventing us from feeling free?
I think back to All Saints Day of 2017. I had a number of All Saints Day services under my belt by that point, and our tradition at Grace was to have the congregation light candles for the saints that we’ve loved and lost. And for the sake of not double lighting for some people, I as presider would light all the candles of those who have died who were connected to the congregation, unless immediate family were present, of course. Normally I would have about 4-5 candles to light but this year, that year of 2017 was different. We still had 4-5 candles for me to light, but one of them was for my dad, who we lost in July of that year.
Something you should know about my dad and me, we never had a good relationship. Our personalities clashed and aside from last name and mailing address for the first 20 some odd years of my life, we didn’t have much in common. In fact, if anything I’d say that our relationship was dysfunctional at best. But still, losing him was hard. Sitting with him in the hospital, knowing the inevitable was coming sooner than later, holding his hand for probably the first time ever. It was a tough situation to be in.
Because after he died, I wasn’t sure what I was feeling. But I was different. I was angrier. I was more distant from my wife and kids. I was more in denial of how much this man was connected to me even though we barely ever spoke. I didn’t want to feel sad that he was dead, but I did. I didn’t want to regret how I treated him and regarded him when he was alive, but I did. I didn’t want to shed any tears for him, but I did.
“Unbind him, and let him go.”
The words of Jesus today suddenly hit different. I hear them as a warning that my harbouring of these hard feelings toward my dad is affecting me in adverse ways. I hear Jesus encouraging me to unbind the preconceptions and narrow understanding that I had of my dad as this uncaring and detached father who didn’t really want any part in my life. I hear Jesus empowering me to let go of the hurt, the anger, the regret .
Easier said than done, Jesus. The hurts and pain that we carry can be so deep that we can’t just simply extract them and we’ll be healed. Our traumas of past have impacted us so greatly that being told to just “let go” isn’t exactly helpful. Our complicated histories have essentially written the stories of our lives and act as the foundation of our identities so removing them really isn’t all that easy.
But maybe they would be easier if we saw how we are healed in them. This isn’t to excuse those who have caused us hurt and pain but it is to say that those hurts and pains are seen, recognised, and mended by God. This isn’t to belittle the traumas of our pasts but it is to say that in those traumas and difficult situations of our lives Jesus is present with us, feeling what we feel and weeping as we weep. This isn’t to say that we are now impervious to the deep dark pits of the hardships of life, but it is to say that when we find ourselves in those pits and holes, God sees us, reaches out to us, and calls us by name to come forth.
Come forth into life. Come forth into freedom. Come forth to be unbound and let go.
For God is doing a new thing in the world and in our lives, not wiping away the hardships but wiping away the tears. Not undoing death but undoing the finality of death. Not eliminating the hurts and sorrows that we inevitably will face, but rolling away the stone that keeps us locked up in them.
You see, my friends, the healing of God isn’t about just putting a Band-Aid on the wound and pretending that it never happened. The grace of God isn’t about giving us everything we want or doing things how we think they should be done. The love of God isn’t about preventing bad things from ever happening to us. But the healing grace and love of God is about welcoming us into relationship with God and all the saints, revealing to us the eternal connection we have with the one body of Christ, and guiding us by the Spirit into caring and compassionate community and inviting us to live the life that truly is life.
So in Jesus’ call for those present at Lazarus’ tomb and to us to let them go is more of an encouraging promise than it is a command. It is a promise that tells us we will have the strength. It is a promise that we will have the healing. It is a promise that we will have hope, in that God continues to do that new thing in and around our lives, full of grace and peace and reminding us of all joy, through Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord.
On this All Saints Sunday, may we remember with fondness the saints of the past, connect deeply with the saints of the present, and look ahead with hope to the saints of the future, that we can truly know and feel the unbound freedom from sin and all that oppresses us, in the name of God Sovereign, Saviour, and Spirit. Thanks be to God. Amen.