Thursday, 26 November 2009

Apocalypse Now

Thursday 26 November Holy Communion St Giles

First Reading Daniel 6: 12 – end

12 So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: "Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions' den?"
       The king answered, "The decree stands—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed."

13 Then they said to the king, "Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day." 14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.

15 Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, "Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed."

16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions' den. The king said to Daniel, "May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!"

17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel's situation might not be changed. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.

19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. 20 When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?"

21 Daniel answered, "May the king live forever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty."

23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

24 At the king's command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions' den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.

25 Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth:
       "May you prosper greatly!

26 "I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.
       "For he is the living God
       and he endures forever;
       his kingdom will not be destroyed,
       his dominion will never end.

27 He rescues and he saves;
       he performs signs and wonders
       in the heavens and on the earth.
       He has rescued Daniel
       from the power of the lions."

28 So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Gospel Luke 21: 20 – 28

20 "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

25 "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."


Luke 21 is called Apocalyptic Discourse. All 3 synoptic gospels present this extended discourse – conclusion to Jesus’s ministry – before passion narrative.

Apocalypse = revelation – lifting of veil. Nowadays refers to end of time – like Revelation at end of NT.

Jesus’s teachings are about the Kingdom. The Kingdom will bring hostility, as we read two weeks ago. Jesus’s passion and resurrection act as precursor to Apocalypse. After Jesus has gone, the disciples face immediate hostility as thye struggle to maintain their faith without him present but with guidance of Holy Spirit instead.

The discourse takes place appropriately in the Temple. Focuses on destruction of the Temple – both physically and as necessary event at end of age. The two events are separate – the Romans destroyed the Temple, but thatv was not the end of the age, merely a sign of what is to come.

So Luke says ‘when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know its desolation is near.’ By the time Luke writes his gospel, the Temple will probably have been destroyed, so the words of Jesus in retrospect look like a prophecy that the readers will know has already been fulfilled.

So they will concentrate all the more on the other signs – those that herald the end of time or Apocalypse. These signs include cosmic disasters that climax in the Son of Man returning on a cloud – a direct quotation from Daniel 7, the chapter after today’s OT reading. This is a kind of ascension in reverse.

Like the early church, Luke expected the imminent return of Christ, but they were doomed to disappointment. For us, 2,000 years later, what expectation do we have? Not imminent probably, but our time is not God’s time. Still the message that Luke is giving is the same: only the time is different. Luke still looked for the powerful intervention of God in the world, but he expected it soon.

Our confidence is in the same powerful intervention, but not imminently. The Kingdom of God is with us in one sense already, however, and this is what should control our lives. We should still be prepared for the end of time, which will come like a thief in the night – and so our behaviour should be the same as those in the early church who had a different expectation.

Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Christ the King

First Reading Daniel 7.9-10,13-14

Daniel said: “As I looked,
thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.
A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
and the books were opened.

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

Gospel John 18.33-37

Pilate went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”


Christ the King is the title given to Jesus in many passages of scripture. Many denominations, including Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians and some Methodists and Lutherans observe the feast of Christ the King on the last day of the church year. Sunday before Advent.

Surely, you may say, Jesus did not call himself a King? Jesus did not describe himself as a King in the conventional sense. Nor did he even want to be called Messiah. Both of these titles carried overtones of worldly power and might. To claim kingship or even to say he was the Messiah would invite misunderstanding on the part of those who listened to his words.

Still, in the exchange with Pilate, Jesus admitted to being a king of sorts. A king not of this world. When challenged by Pilate to say what kind of king he was, Jesus answered:

“You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

In reply, Pilate asked the famous question: “What is truth?” - a question we will all spend our lives trying to answer.

In order to try and address this particular question, we have to jump back from chapter 18 to the beginning of John’s gospel.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only [Son], who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus’s kingship is revealed by John as God in human flesh. He is the Word. The Word is God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus’s kingship is veiled. Andrew finds Jesus, then goes to get his brother Simon. We have found the Messiah he says.

Jesus calls Philip who finds Nathaniel.

49 Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel."

In Matthew, the wise men were seeking Jesus the king. "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."

Jesus himself preferred another title. Son of Man. You can see where it came from in today’s reading from Daniel.

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

So the King Jesus claims to be is very far from worldly sovereignty. It is all about truth. Revealing the truth to human beings. This is the explanation Jesus gives to Pilate, and Pilate does not question it, any more than he believes Jesus is guilty of the crimes brought against him. In fact, Pilate even orders a sign for the cross. It read JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. John’s gospel adds:

20Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, "Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews."

22Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written."

So Pilate seems to accept that Jesus somehow has a kingship of a kind, but he gets no answer to his question “What is Truth?” Or does he?

If Pilate affirms Jesus’s kingship so clearly, does he see, as we do, that Jesus is Truth? Does he perceive that this prisoner is in himself the answer to that eternal question we all spend our lives trying to answer? The person of Jesus, standing in front of him accused of sedition embodies the Truth. Truth is the One on trial. Truth is the Word made flesh. And the Word made flesh is indeed Christ the King – the true witness and proclamation of John the Evangelist today, the feast of Christ the King on the Sunday next before Advent.

But Jesus’s insistence on calling himself Son of Man (literally ‘one like a human being’) also reveals to us God. Not only Jesus himself – God incarnate – but God’s place in an increasingly chaotic world. In Daniel’s vision, the Son of Man comes to deliver the people from the threats that overwhelm them. God is depicted as King, on a throne but the delivered looks like a human being, the Son of Man.

So God is in the midst of all this chaos, both as King and as a human deliverer. This shows God is not far away from the everyday events of life, but is moving, acting and intervening in the real life struggles of believers, however much it may sometimes seem that he has taken a back seat or is just an observer.

As one American theologian[1] has written:

Particularly as we are entering this season of Advent we take heart in the image of Christ our King who was born in the shadow of the empire; who was threatened and eventually persecuted and killed by the empire; but who has risen from the dead, reigning on high. It is this advent hope in the already and the not yet of our salvation that gives us the strength to endure.


[1] Juliana Claassens

Associate Professor of Old Testament
Wesley Theological Seminary
Richmond, VA

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Unity – Thursday 5 November

Reading Romans 14

The Weak and the Strong

1 Accept those whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person's faith allows them to eat everything, but another person, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted that person. 4 Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To their own master they stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

5 Some consider one day more sacred than another; others consider every day alike. Everyone should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Those who regard one day as special do so to the Lord. Those who eat meat do so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and those who abstain do so to the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 For we do not live to ourselves alone and we do not die to ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat your brother or sister with contempt? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. 11 It is written:
       " 'As surely as I live,' says the Lord,
       'every knee will bow before me;
       every tongue will confess to God.' "

12 So then, we will all give an account of ourselves to God.

Gospel Luke 15

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

8 "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn't she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."


We continue reading Romans.

Sometimes I feel Paul does not talk a lot of sense. Wonderful though he was, and although through his ministry and bravery he single-handedly spread the gospel right round the Roman world, he was human and fallible. His attitude towards women in the church I find it hard to take, just as much as I do the attitude of those of my colleagues who are members of Forward in Faith.

This time, though, Paul talks sense. Would that the Christian church even today could heed his advice. This chapter and the next is about pursuing what makes for peace and mutual edification.

Paul begins this section with an exhortation to Christian unity. He was embroiled in controversy that had broken out in the Corinthian church, where a dispute arose as to whether or not it was OK to eat food that had been offered to pagan idols.

Who cares? He said (more or less). What difference does it make? We are no worse off if we abstain from eating, and no better off if we eat. Even so, he went on, it’s better not to encourage others to go against their convictions. It’s better for the strong not to tell the weaker members how to behave, if that means going against their consciences.

Each of us stands or falls, not by the judgement and good standing of our fellow women and men, but through the judgement of God alone. Live towards God through faith: live towards others with consideration.

Recognising individual differences and understanding them, even if we don’t agree with them, is the road to unity. Unity does not mean we all agree on everything. Far from it. What is means is we are prepared to live in love with each other without judging them.

The Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but walking together in tolerance and love.

Why can’t the church follow this sensible advice? Why do people hold such strong views about seemingly small details of faith or worship that they are prepared to take up arms against those who don’t agree? Why in this modern age do we still fight over whether women can be made bishops, or even be ordained priest in the first place? Why do we judge each other and treat our fellow Christians with contempt?

You tell me. I have no idea. What I do know is that if people read more of these words of St Paul and less of some of the others, we might just get closer to the ideal. As it says in Philippians 2:

1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,

2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus

Monday, 2 November 2009

All Souls 2 November 2009 at 8.00pm

Reading Wisdom 3:1-9 (TNIV)

The Destiny of the Righteous

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
2In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
3and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
4For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
5Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
6like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt-offering he accepted them.
7In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
8They will govern nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord will reign over them forever.
9Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,
and he watches over his elect.*

Gospel John 11: 17 – 27 (TNIV)

Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."

23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."

24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

27 "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."


All Saints and All Souls – for many years they were joined together – but in 1980 they were split with introduction of a new service book in C of E.

They are very similar in intent, but in the way we celebrate them there are differences.

All Saints – we celebrate the saints. Special people set aside an example to us in the way they lived and died. They may be called Saint, or may not. They may be ordinary people who were special to us – who brought us up in the faith of Christ – examples to us in our formative years – youth leaders, grandparents, parents, friends.

In the early church – no word for ‘Christian’ – Paul wrote letters to ‘the saints in church at Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi ....’ So the saints we commemorated yesterday, and the souls we remember today may be the same people in many cases.

All Souls – ‘commemoration of faithful departed.’ People dear to us as individuals. These may not be particularly saintly folk. They are important to us – and we believe have gone to be with God. We see them no longer – but our hope is to be reunited with them in fullness of time.

Tonight we are not praying for the souls of those who have departed. We are remembering them, and thanking God for their lives and all they meant to us. We are not praying for them because they are already with God. But we are praying for ourselves and each other as we commemorate the lives of our loved ones who have died.

Tonight we bring a mixture of emotions to this service, and we have space to reflect on those feelings. Maybe some are negative ones. Not all our memories will be good ones, although naturally we will try and concentrate on the good times and all they meant to us.

I say ‘we’ because I myself conducted the funerals of both of my parents in the last 5 years. In fact, my father’s funeral was the first one I ever took.

There may be feelings of regret. Loneliness. Missed opportunities to say what we felt. Remorse. Guilt perhaps. Even anger. Tonight we have space to think over these feelings, and perhaps leave some of them behind here – at the foot of the cross – knowing that God loves us all as he has assured us through the words of Jesus Christ, and we can consign them to his tender care.

The gospel readings for both All Saints and All Souls this year follow on from each other. Lazarus was a close friend of Jesus. His sisters were Mary and Martha. Lazarus fell dangerously sick, and knowing their friend Jesus had been healing people they sent for him.

Jesus delayed. By the time he arrived, Lazarus had been in the tomb for 4 days. Martha expressed some of those feelings of regret and maybe even anger. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” were her first words when Jesus eventually arrived. Jesus assures her she will see her brother again one day. He will rise again. She knows that already.

Later on, Jesus visits the tomb of Lazarus and gives instructions for the stone sealing the entrance to the cave where he is buried to be removed. He calls to Lazarus who is restored to life and walks out.

Like many incidents in the gospels, this one works for us at many levels.

Firstly it is an actual event that is being reported. The raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Secondly, there is the message. Jesus is demonstrating God’s power over death. He says to Martha:

"I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

“Yes, Lord, I believe” she replies – even before witnessing the miracle of her brother’s call from the tomb.

Thirdly, before opening the cave everyone protests. It is a hot country. People are buried quickly. The body had been in the cave 4 days, and there would be a bad odour.

This represents for us all our negative feelings. The bad odour of our remorse, resentment, perhaps even guilt and anger. In the narrative, Jesus is able to confront all that, and the result is another empty tomb – like his own after the crucifixion – by which he shows God has power over death. What seems to us a terrible finality is not the end, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

And Jesus asks us the same question as he asked Martha. “Do you believe?” She answered at once. Martha had the benefit of her Lord right in front of her. We don’t have that luxury, but Jesus still asks us the same question. And by answering in the affirmative, we can be assured of God’s love, atonement and redemption, through which we can leave whatever negative feelings remain with us,` at the foot of his cross. Amen

Sunday, 1 November 2009

All Saints

1 November 2009

Gospel John 11.32-44

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”


Tomorrow we observe All Souls. The Common Worship service is called Commemoration of Faithful Departed. Today is All Saints. Last year we observed All Saints and All Souls together. For many years, in the church year both were observed together, but from 1980 with the ASB they were once again separated.

The two are similar but not the same. Tomorrow we remember all those loved ones who have died. We express our hope that we will one day be reunited with them. We are not praying for them – they are in the keeping of a loving God – but we pray for ourselves and each other.

The saints are special people who have set an example for us to follow by the way they lived their lives, and perhaps also by the way they died. They may be well-known figures who are beatified – called by the name of Saint – or they may be more ordinary folks who have helped us in our journey of faith, whether parents, leaders, friends, or spiritual advisers. Whatever their role, it was meaningful and important to us, and we look back on their lives and what they meant to us in our formative years with gratitude and thanks.

Before the word ‘Christian’ came into common use, members of the early church were known as saints. In his letter to the Romans, for example, Paul writes to those who are loved by God and called to be saints. He refers to the church in Corinth as the congregation of the saints. Ephesians begins with the words Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus. Christians in the churches of Colossae and Philippi are called by the same name.

Today as we celebrate All Saints, we are thinking not only of those special people whose examples we can follow, but also you and me. The saints of Cheddington and Mentmore.

When thinking about what to say today, I wondered why this particular reading from the gospel of John had been chosen. What does it have to do with the saints?

Beginning with the turning of water into wine in chapter 2 John’s gospel is constructed around a series of signs performed by Jesus. The raising of Lazarus marks a turning point . Why? Because the miracle demonstrates Jesus has power even over death, and death is the most frightening aspect of our life. It can seem so final. It is the great unknown. Death robs us of our very existence in this world.

Only God has power over death, so by raising Lazarus, Jesus is showing his divine nature. At the same time, this very act angers the religious leaders. From this point, they plot to kill him ‘for the sake of the whole nation.’

The bystanders and even Martha herself ask why Jesus could not have healed Lazarus. Why did Jesus delay so long before coming to him? For them, like us, the fact that Lazarus did actually die and was buried 4 days demands from us a shift in faith. A shift from believing in Jesus as a healer to believing in him as Son of God.

Before this, no one had any conception of Christ as ‘the resurrection and the life’ – someone who had power over life and death.

At the same time, this event shows Jesus at his most human. He is distressed at Martha’s grief. He weeps himself – it’s the shortest verse in the Bible. He is ‘deeply moved and troubled’ – the Greek words imply anger.

What is Jesus angry about? Surely not their lack of faith. Who could have expected Jesus to bring Lazarus back to life after 4 days in the tomb? Was he angry at the power death has over us all, including Lazarus of course? If so, Jesus demonstrates that the power of death is not final, using only 3 words: “Lazarus come out.” He shows his power over what we all fear most.

This is why this single incident appears in the lectionary for All Saints Day. Until now, death has been the enemy. Hand in hand with death is sin, brokenness, despair, and division. ‘Why did he die so soon?’ ‘Why did she linger in pain so long?’ These are the sort of questions we hear often at funerals.

The message of All Saints is a partial answer. Death is no longer the enemy it was. Death is no longer only a cause for grief, but restores us to the image of the God who created us.

Death remains the greatest threat to our imagination, purpose and value. The fight is not over but the war has been won.

Death is still a fearsome frontier, but for some people, the constant march of medical science can spare us to live a bit longer and to witness to our faith in this world for a while yet. I myself am a case in point, who a few years ago might not still be alive but for the developing skill of a surgeon.

Lazarus actually hosts a meal in chapter 12, but like him however long we live we still face our own mortality in the end. Just as Jesus called Lazarus back with those 3 words, so God calls us to be with him in his nearer presence. Through our own baptism, when we die to sin and are resurrected with Christ, so through faith we are called by Jesus out of the tomb of sin and death, and like Lazarus we are untied from the bonds that held us captive to serve and witness to the Lord who has saved us from the dead.