November 1, 2015

All Saints Day

Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44


When we hear the tale of Jesus weeping over the death of Lazarus, our own irreversible losses reverberate in our hearts. Of the many stories of Jesus’ healing and death-reversing power, the story of Jesus reviving Lazarus is one uniquely colored by the intimacy and loyalty of friendship.  If only we could revive our most beloved friends who are no longer with us in this life. And, why does it feel in times of loss as though the death of a beloved friend or family member would threaten our own lives? Why does it feel as though grief wants to become our undertaker? We can’t move. We can’t work. We can hardly speak.  Loss can literally be life breaking. We see this in the numerous cases of the elderly lover who dies just days or weeks after a beloved spouse.

Yet story - myth - can help us to cope with the complexity of such pain.  Jesus raising Lazarus is one. Another is the Sumerian myth of the Goddess Inanna. Inanna was known in Ancient Iraq as the Queen of Heaven and Earth, and she chose do descend to the underworld after the death of her sister’s husband. Entering the underworld required of Inanna to surrender every aspect of herself and her status.  She was made to enter seven portals. At the first they demanded her crown. At the second they took her lapis beads. By the seventh portal she was literally stripped naked and made to surrender her royal robe.  Inanna was then judged harshly, killed and reduced to a piece of raw meat. Isn’t that how we feel in times of deep grief; raw in every fiber of our being?

And yet, there are people who know us well and can reach into our isolation and sorrow. The effort of these companions can inspire the reassembly of our lives. Jesus entered a cave filled with the four-day old stench of death and yet came out with his friend newly revived. In Inanna’s case it was her servant - a woman who knew Inanna’s every move - who instigated Inanna’s return from the underworld. Thanks to the efforts of this loyal friend and servant, two genderless beings were said to have travelled to the underworld and found Inanna’s corpse. One sprinkled upon it the bread of life and the other the water of life. The Queen of Heaven was restored and began her return.

Sometimes we grieve and need the assistance of others. Sometimes it is we who must be watchful for those we know well. If we find them down, depressed or isolated we need not diagnose or attempt to fix them. Instead let us invite them anywhere that is outside their place of pain.

The baptism of new saints into our church fold, a liturgical act that we do today, is a commitment from us to them, that we will be the church of revival. When they turn 50, are depressed by their age, and are paralyzed by thoughts of the future, we will force their removal from the couch and take them to lunch. We will hold their hand when they grieve.  We will look for them when they are lost. We promise to not bee too demanding, judgmental or creepy, and pledge to instead be intimate, safe, strong, helpful and constant. I invite us to pray for each other as we strive to be these latter things, remembering honestly our saints of old and welcoming joyfully our saints of new.