All Saints

Based on the reading from St John 11:32-45, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

Have you ever felt as if God had let you down, had withdrawn His protecting arm from you? Even the question seems foolish, because we know the answer before we ask it. I know many who have walked hospital corridors with loved ones and seen their prayers go seemingly unanswered. As a parent I prayed earnestly for my son John’s healing, but to no avail.

How many times have you said, or heard it said; “Look, if prayer is the answer, why don’t I get an answer to my prayers? Why doesn’t God speak?

Why doesn’t He at least offer an explanation? Why is He so silent?” This is a common experience for us.

Before we pronounce judgement against the silence of God, we must remember that God’s knowledge is greater than our own. He knows both the beginning and the end of the road. We know only the beginning, and the part we’re traveling on now. So who are we to assume that we know what is ultimately best for us?  You see God may seemingly deny what we ask in order to give us something better. This I believe is a point we can take from our Gospel reading.

Lazarus has fallen ill, and his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent a message to Jesus that their brother was ill and that Jesus should come quickly and heal him. But Jesus dawdled and dallied around for three days. So Lazarus dies. When Jesus finally arrived on the scene Mary rebukes Jesus: “If you had been here, our brother would not have died. But you didn’t listen to our prayer.”

But wait, they didn’t realise that God, through Christ, had passed the miracle of healing to display the greater miracle of resurrection from the dead.  And this is so, even though the people who are sitting and mourning the death of Lazarus have seen God’s power on display through the miracles and signs Jesus performed. They have seen him perform astounding healing miracles and Mary, at least, firmly believes that if Jesus had been there when Lazarus was ill, Jesus would have been able to heal him.

But even she has not yet grasped the fullness of what Jesus is capable of, while some of the others who are keeping her company are openly sceptical. They see Lazarus’ death as a sign that Jesus’ power is either waning, or perhaps was never as great as people made out. Perhaps, they guess, Lazarus was too seriously ill for Jesus to heal him. Perhaps Jesus really isn’t all that special.  Certainly, Jesus seems very vulnerable and shaken as He faces this death of a friend. In this He is not different from the rest of us in feeling the awful separation.

Although He speaks to Mary with absolute confidence, and acts decisively, still we are told that He is “greatly disturbed”.  But His sense of loss does not prevent Him from trusting in God and acting for God. Even Martha and Mary, two of Jesus’ most ardent supporters, do not believe that He can do anything for their brother now that he is actually dead.

Already, the processes of decay are starting, and Martha and Mary expect nothing from Jesus, except that He will share their grief.  And, indeed, He does share their grief, but not so strongly that He loses touch with God.  This is a key truth – no matter what was before Jesus He never lost touch with His heavenly Father.

Moved and saddened as He is, He steps up to Lazarus’ tomb and calls his friend back to life. And instantly, Lazarus responds. This is, after all, the voice that called all creation into being.

It is hard not to envy Jesus with His power to bring His friend back to life. How we have longed to be able to do the same for someone we love. But Jesus tells Mary that He is doing this so that she — and all the watching crowds — “would see the glory of God”.

That is why Jesus calls Lazarus back from death, not because He cannot bear to be without him. You see Jesus knows that soon enough He himself will face the dead, and that His ordinary human relationships will change for ever. But in the meantime Lazarus is alive again to show the power and glory of God.

Mary and Martha believed that death was the end, but Jesus showed them that there is no end to a life lived in love of God. This is the glory of God.  This is the very nature of God that God is life and that nothing, not even death itself, can separate us from the overwhelming life and love of God.

So the Christian belief in life after death is a belief in the never-ending vitality of God. It is not a sentimental and unrealistic desire to maintain unchanged our precious human relationships, but a realisation that our love for each other mirrors in a small and imperfect way God’s love for us and his creation.  Therefore, we can trust our God absolutely with those we love as well as with our own life.

Living thoughts

We’re now in a season of remembering, so we will do something different this week. Instead of Digging into God’s Word you’ll have an opportunity to remember those who have gone before us. Maybe you would like to have a candle to light. Why do we on such occasions light a candle in memory of a dear departed loved one?

Lighting a candle is a prayer:

When we have gone it stays alight, kindling in the hearts and minds of others the prayers we have already offered for them.

Lighting a candle is a parable:

Burning itself out it gives light to others.  Christ gave himself for others. He calls us to give ourselves.

Lighting a candle is a symbol:

Of love and hope, of light and warmth.  Our world needs them all.

A Service of Light

We remember before God those whom we love and light a candle to symbolise the light of Christ which eternally shines and brings hope. Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’

You O Lord are my lamp – You turn our darkness into light

With you O Lord is the well of life – In your light shall we see light

Jesus Christ is the light of the world – A light no darkness can quench

Light a candle in memory of a dearly departed loved one.

Prayer Response

Jesus, Son of the Living God, you summoned your friend Lazarus from death to life: raise us at the last to full and eternal life with you.

Hear us, risen Lord, our resurrection and our life.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You, Lord for loving me and reminding me of Your Truth. Help me keep my eyes on You, especially in times of fear. May I remember that You can use all things for my good and Your glory. Give me a heart that trusts, and take away the desire to lean on my own understanding. Thank You for Your protection, provision, and presence!

Hear us, risen Lord, our resurrection and our life.

Father, I want to live in the shadow of Your wing. When life is hard, and I don’t know what to do, help me remember that You are with me and that I am never alone. I cannot live without You. I cannot face tomorrow without the promise of Your presence. Today I choose to walk and live under the protection of You, The Most High and only true God.

Hear us, risen Lord, our resurrection and our life.