Kingship or Kingdom?

Pilate: Are you a king? Jesus: My kingdom is not from this world. Pilate:  So you are a king?Jesus: if you say so.


The question Pilate and Jesus dance around is if Jesus is a king, what kind of king is he?

There are two kinds of religion; religion as the assertion of power, and religion as the profound recognition of vulnerability. The difference between these two manifestations is the distinction between  kingship and  kingdom.

Kingship I

In 1925 Pius XI proclaimed the feast of Christ the King as the Catholic Church’s assertion of power against the rival totalitarian movements of Fascism and Communism. This is an old, old story. In 313, when on Hadrian’s Wall at the most northern reaches of the Empire, the Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, he forever changed the developmental course of Christianity.

In the Eastern half of the Roman Empire centered at Constantinople, the Church became incorporated as the spiritual aspect of imperial power. In the Western half centered on Rome, as the political center of imperial power collapsed before the waves of Barbarian invasion, the Church became the only center for both political and spiritual power. In the East, the Church becomes established, the spiritual arm of the State. In the West, the Church becomes the State.  Either way, the images and attributes of political and economic power became projected onto the image of Christ. Christ, the Good Shepherd became Christ Pantocrator -ruler of the world. The dying man on the cross shape-shifts into Christus Rex, Christ reigning in glory. 

It’s understandable why in 1925, facing the menacing growth of fascism and communism, Pius XI marshals his Catholic legions in an assertion of the old Constantinian power of the Church as the only center of allegiance. Religion as power girds for battle.

Pius’ proclamation also needs to be understood within the Italian context. In 1861, the newly unified Kingdom of Italy proclaimed Rome as its capital. This was greeted by the Vatican as a hostile act amounting to the annexation of Rome and the Papal States by the newly formed Kingdom of Italy – leaving only a small enclave surrounding the Vatican itself as the remnant of the once mighty Papal States. Between 1861 and 1929 the Popes considered themselves prisoners of the Italian State and thus refused to leave the Vatican City. This standoff came to an end when in 1929 the Italian Government and the Papacy concluded the Lateran Agreements, ending Papal self confinement and inaugurating the Vatican City as a sovereign entity independent of the Italian State.

Completing the historical development of the commemoration of Christ the King, in 1994, with the revision of the Common Lectionary, the Anglican Communion along with the mainline Protestant traditions adopted Christ the King as the celebration for the final Sunday of the Church Year.

The question Pilate and Jesus dance around is if Jesus is a king, what kind of king is he?

Kingship II

Robert Capon, in Hunting the Divine Fox confronts us with our typical American notions of divine kingship.

. . . The true paradigm of the ordinary American view of Jesus is Superman: “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It’s Superman! Strange visitor from another planet, who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American Way.”

If that isn’t popular christology, I’ll eat my hat. Jesus gentle, meek, and mild, but with secret, souped-up, more-than‑human insides bumbles around for thirty-three years, nearly gets himself done in for good by the Kryptonite Kross, but at the last minute, struggles into the phone booth of the Empty Tomb, changes into his Easter suit and, with a single bound, leaps back up to the planet Heaven. It’s got it all — including, just so you shouldn’t miss the lesson, kiddies: He never once touches Lois Lane.

Capon notes [pp. 90-91; reprinted, along with two other books under the title The Romance of the Word: One Man’s Love Affair with Theology] that the human race has: always been deeply unwilling to accept a human messiah. He notes that: we don’t want to be saved in our humanity; we want to be fished out of it. We crucified Jesus, because: he claimed to be God and then failed to come up to our standards for assessing the claim. It’s not that we weren’t looking for the Messiah; it’s just that he wasn’t what we were looking for. Our kind of Messiah would come down from a cross. He would carry a folding phone booth in his back pocket. He wouldn’t do a stupid thing like rising from the dead. He would do a smart thing like never dying.”

Whether as Pius’s Christ the King, or America’s Jesus Christ -Superman,  both picture Christ reigning in triumph and glory, avoiding the shame and humiliation of Jesus’ death on the cross. As we struggle in 2019 to clarify  the meaning of Christ the King in a religious tradition that long ago forsook religion as power, we have little use for projections of either Christ Pantocrator -omnipotent ruler of the universe, or Jesus Christ Superman -contemporary folk superhero. 


Christ the King is the celebration of Jesus as Messiah or liberator. The theology of Jesus’ kingship is the Jewish theology of the Messiah as God’s promised one, who, in his coming confronts the business-as-usual mentality of human political, social, and economic structures. My kingdom is not of this world, does not mean Jesus is a secret king who rejects the pain and mess of the real world in preference to the world of privatized faith accessible only in the inner world of the believer.

Jesus as Messiah and liberator confronts popular notions of a charismatic leader coming to fight fire with fire. Christ as King is not a celebration of king-ship but an announcement of king-dom. The religion of kingdom is made real in those attributes Jesus reveals on the cross; courage, servant-hood, forgiveness, generosity, and inclusion.

The notion of Kingdom makes us very uneasy because it challenges our complicit accommodation with the status quo; a status quo drawing on the privileging of power and its unequal distribution from which flow all the forms of oppression and injustice that characterizes our contemporary society.

As we celebrate the ending of a wonderful year and prepare with anticipation and excitement of what Advent and the new Becoming more and more fit for the God’s purposes can be a blessing or a curse – depending on how we want to look at it. 

It’s not that we are not looking for a king. It’s just, is Jesus the kind of king we are looking for?




Living with uncertainty is very hard to do. It was certainly hard to do for the Christians in Rome during the decades following Jesus’ death and resurrection, for whom Mark was constructing his gospel. In chapter 13, Mark records Jesus and his disciples on their fateful final visit to the Temple in Jerusalem. Chapter 13 is known as the Little Apocalypse[1]– a curious intrusion of dire warnings about a dystopian future into the overall flow of the Passion Narrative.

It’s a universal human experience that living with future uncertainty cultivates an attitude of fear and foreboding in us. Predictions of a dystopian future currently constitute a staple diet for Hollywood movie script writers and producers. It seems we have an unending appetite for frightening ourselves. It was no different in the 1st-century in which Mark was writing.

It’s not that there is nothing to worry about. The future viewed from our current lens looks increasingly bleak. Last week I noted the increasing dangers to international order posed by the rise of nationalistic, authoritarian government that seems only interested in alliances of convenience that shift and change from moment to moment. Later last Sunday, in his St Martin’s Day address, RabbiHoward Voss-Altman warned against our subtle desensitization to re-suregent racist and fascist tendencies. The now continual news of catastrophic climate events is really beginning to focus all our attention, the current Administration excepted, on the realization that as we endeavor to ensure the future prosperity of our children in material terms, we are actively bequeathing them an escalating process of environmental degradation.

There are real worries for the future posed by problems that can, however, be tackled, if we but find the collective political will to do so. However, at a deeper level, the inherent uncertainty of the future continues to pose an existential anxiety for which the most effective solution is living lives nurtured by faith, hope, and the daily practice of love. In short, the antidote to existential anxiety is spiritual in nature.

Our Christian faith offers us what I continually refer to as a really big story within which to construct our lives. When we fail to acknowledge that this is the central story with a claim upon our allegiance, we risk becoming enslaved to lesser stories, that like all idolatries promise more than the can deliver. Perhaps it’s the desire for wealth, the drive for security or competence, the craving for satisfaction – food, alcohol, sex, drugs, and let’s not forget shopping – all delivering only temporary satiation of our longed-for desire to feel full and complete. Perhaps it’s the adulation of success – beautiful bodies, glossy lifestyles, professional and personal adulation that promise insulation from the slings and arrows of life’s outrageous fortune. Let’s not forget the naive allegiance to the charismatic leader, the latest slick politician promising to solve all our economic woes and appease our social-racial-gender anxieties by playing on our fears. I could go on.

All of the lesser story claimants on our lives are not in and of themselves inherently bad, it’s that they are simply unable to bear the weight of the expectations for meaning and purpose we project onto them.

In short, the antidote to existential anxiety is spiritual in nature

The only antidote to fear and anxiety generated by uncertainty is to let the large story of faith, hope and love shape us. This is important for us individually, but more significantly our religious story is lived out only in community. For it’s in community we catch from and reinforce in each other our common spiritual heritage. Last Sunday’s wonderful celebration of St Martin’s Day is such an example of what I mean, an event that is the fruiting of new energies of commitment and collaboration within our parish community, which in turn strengthens our overall commitment.


Like the disciples ogling in wonder at the great stones of the Second Temple, we place our confidence in the wrong things. Mark’s Jesus, not for the first time shows he has no truck with such naivete. He slaps his dreaming deciples down hard! Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down. You can imagine the disciples – to use the current vernacular – thinking: Hang on Jesus, keep your hair, on I was only just saying —–

If you are like me, you will often look around in admiration of the stones of this very beautiful church of ours. I remember my first visit to St Martin’s. By that point I had become used to the Colonial-Spanish styles of Arizona Episcopal churches, so that on entering St Martin’s for the first time you might have heard me exclaim: Look Jesus, a proper church!  

We love the stones of this church, it’s glass and its grace in decoration – St Martin’s is indeed among the finest examples of an Arts and Crafts church interior in New England. But look a little closer, see the buckling plaster, the severe water damage to the walls in the chapel. Look closer and you will see beautiful stones come at a price; the price being that of continually very expensive maintenance and repair.

NowI believe that we must shoulder our responsibility to maintain with diligence and effort the stones of this church – bequeathed to us by former generations – of whose sacrifices this building remains a living testimony. Fortunately, the task is not yet beyond our capacities. Yet, there may come a time when it will be. One of the future’s uncertainties is what will happen to churches like ours in the face of demographic and generational changes that are already resulting in drastically reduced commitments to church and church going among the post-boomer generations?

My purpose is not to depress us all. It is simply to affirm Jesus’s teaching as presented by Mark, that we live always in the face of the future’s uncertainties. We cannot know the future but we must trust ourselves to it, nonetheless. Jesus reminds us that many will come in his name. Their ability to lead us astray rests upon our craving for clear and certain answers to uncertainty cannot be met other than that uncertainty must work itself out over a longer time frame than the one we are most comfortable with.


We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from making our commitment to living life in the here and now by the uncertainties of the yet to become known future.

This is why each year the Annual Renewal Campaign carries such importance. Today, the 2019 campaign comes to a close with the in-gathering of our commitment promises for the next 12 months. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from making our commitment to living life in the here and now by the un certainties of the yet to become known future.

Onin-gathering Sunday, our practice is to return – if we have not already done so-our estimate of giving cards for 2019 as we come to eat and drink Christ intoour lives. Doing it like this emphasizes that the gifts of life are to beenjoyed and given thanks for as God-given and not worshiped as gods, in themselves.The gifts God gives us are for the enjoyment of our lives, and the means throughwhich to fulfill our responsibilities.

When we worship the gifts of God rather than the God who gives them, we fall away from the support of the large story of faith, hope and the practice of love into the clutches of the smaller stories of our anxiety-ridden human condition. 

For no amount of hard work, no degree of piety, no level of personal achievement, no desire to make ourselves acceptable by the sweat of our own brow can insulate us from the uncertainties of the future. When we worship the gifts of God rather than the God who gives them, we fall away from the support of the large story of faith, hope and the practice of love into the clutches of the smaller stories of our anxiety-ridden human condition. 

Christian faith is not a protection against future uncertainty.  It is not an insurance policy against things going wrong. Rather, it promises that we can discover “who we are” only when we firmly know “whose we are”(David Lose). We entrust ourselves to a future that is for us yet to become known because we are God’s beloved children, love by God unconditionally. The opposite to uncertainty it turns out is not certainty,  but courage – faith, hope, and the practice of love.   

[1] Apocalyptic writing in a genre of Biblical writing that predicts catastrophic events that will herald the end times.

The Pity of War

The First World War

The first edition of the celebrated WWI poet Wilfred Owen’s war poems was edited and published by Sigfried Sassoon and Edith Sitwell in 1920. Dominic Hibberd’s 1973 republication includes Owen’s poems together with extracts from his letters to his mother, written from the trenches of the Western Front, and other materials including Owen’s own preface to a collection he was clearly planning to publish before his untimely death in 1918.

Owen writes in his preface:

download (2)This book is not about heroes, English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them. Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, dominion, or power, except war.

Above all, I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of war. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful. 

If I thought the letter of this book would last, I might have used proper names; but if the spirit of it survives – survives Prussia – my ambition and those names will have achieved themselves fresher fields than Flanders.

Wilfred Owen was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He freely chose to be part of the worst brutalities of a war in which a young subaltern’s life expectancy in the trenches was a matter of weeks. Having made it through some truly horrendous experiences, Owen was killed seven days before the cessation of hostilities. With tragic poignancy, the telegram informing his mother of his death reached her about an hour after the Armistice was signed.

The record of his war poetry makes Owen’s death noteworthy. Yet, I believe he would be among the first to protest that his was but one death amidst the annihilation of a whole generation – the flower of European youth.

It has been estimated that between 15 – 21 million men died among all combatants in the First World War, with another 21 million seriously wounded. The death totals are staggering: Russia 1,700,000; France 1,357,000; The British Empire, 908,000; The United States, 116,000; Germany, 1,800,000; Austria-Hungary, 1,200,000; Turkey, 325,000.

In my family, we lost two of three brothers. At the time, New Zealand with a population of 1 million, fielded a Division of 100,000 men, of whom 16,000 were killed and a further 41,000 injured; a 58% casualty rate, the highest death toll per head of population for any single combatant army.

Of a grand total of 65 Million men mobilized in the First World War, an estimated 9 million men died, with a further 21 million men wounded.

The most monstrous war in human history was followed by a punitive peace treaty – the infamous Treaty of Versailles, which succeeded only in sowing the seeds of bitterness and ensuring the national humiliation of Germany and the rise of Hitler. You can draw a straight line from the Treaty of Versailles to the outbreak of the Second World War, 21 years later.

On the 19th January 1917 Wilfred Owen wrote to his mother:

They want to call No Man’s land ‘England’ because we keep supremacy there. It is like the eternal place of gnashing teeth; the Sough of Despond could be contained in one of its crater holes; the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah could not light a candle to it – to find the way to Babylon the Fallen….The people of England needn’t hope. They must agitate. But they are not yet agitated even. Let them imagine 50 strong men trembling as with ague (a fever of shivering) for 50 hours!

February 4th, 1917, after describing his experience of leading his platoon into the frozen wastes of no man’s land where without even the cover of dug-outs, under the constant gaze of German periscopes and machine gun positions his platoon lay frozen for several days, plagued by thirst because their Tommycookers (Tommy being the nickname for a British infantryman) could not even melt the snow to fill their canteens, Owen writes to his mother:

I suppose I can endure cold, and fatigue, and face-to-face death, as well as another; but extra for me there is the universal pervasion of Ugliness. Hideous landscapes, vile noises, foul language and nothing but foul, even from one’s own mouth, everything unnatural, broken, blasted; the distortion of the dead, whose unburiable bodies sit outside the dug-outs all day, all night, the most execrable sights on earth. In poetry we call them glorious. But to sit with them all day, all night, …and a week later to come back and find them still sitting there, in motionless groups, THAT is what saps the ‘soldierly spirit’ … 

16th May 1917:

Already I have comprehended a light which will never filter into the dogma of any national church: namely that one of Christ’s essential commands was: Passivity at any price! Suffer dishonour and disgrace; but never resort to arms. Be bullied, be outraged, be killed; but do not kill. It may be a chimerical and an ignominious principle, but there it is. It can only be ignored: and I think the pulpit professionals are ignoring it very skillfully and successfully indeed. … Christ is literally in no man’s land. There, men often hear his voice – Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life – for a friend. Is it spoken in English, only in French? I do not believe so. Thus you see how pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism.


On the 11th day of November in 2018, we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that finally brought the carnage to an end. Throughout the English speaking world and in France and Belgium each year on November 11th a day of remembrance is observed in memory of this global tragedy that shaped the world as we now know it.

Over the war-ravaged landscape Owen describes in his poetry and in his letters home; across the churned up, shell-cratered moonscape of Flander’s fields, a carpet vista of red poppies blossomed. The Canadian poet, John McCrae memorialized this in his poem In Flanders Fields. The red poppy quickly became the universal symbol of what Owen in his preface called the pity of war.

Following World War II and the subsequent wars of the 20th and 21st centuries, November 11th is no longer exclusively focused on the 1918 Armistice. What is now called Remembrance Day elsewhere, is in the US known as Veterans Day, with an emphasis on the honoring of those who have and who currently serve in the armed services.

Nevertheless, the wearing of the red poppy remains the enduring symbol that reminds us of the pity of war. Throughout the nations of the British Commonwealth, the near-universal wearing of the poppy for several weeks preceding Remembrance Day is one of the most moving experiences of what is now sadly an increasingly rare experience of national unity and demonstration of a civic common mind. The wearing of the poppy was once also a common sight in the US, and the American Legion still does its best to make poppies available and to promote a revival of its wearing.

Speaking of the generation killed in the trenches of the First World War, Lawrence Binyon composed a rather jingoistic poem For the Fallen.  Only one of the stanzas bears repeating. In the fourth stanza, Binyon penned this memorial verse – now recited at all Remembrance commemorations:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them. 

Remembrance is a somewhat anomalous word in a society that increasingly has no collective memory extending further back than the last 24-hour news cycle. In a time, such as the one we are living through, Sigmund Freud’s axiom: that which we can no longer remember we are destined to repeat – signals the danger we are in.

All a poet can do today is warn.

I believe the international order is fragmenting under the assault of reckless leadership that echoes the world of 1914.  This may seem an unduly alarmist observation, but if we can only remember the lessons of history, we will quickly see that at no time since 1945 have international relations most mimicked the situation in 1914 that led to the outbreak of the First World War. I highlight five observations.

  1. After the collapse of communism, the relative stability of a bipolar world of two major powers has now fragmented into an international complexity of multiple and competing power centers that signals a frightening return to the 1914 picture of the world.
  2. The stable alliance groups of the post-World War II decades are now being actively undermined in preference for alliances of convenience that come and go at the whim of perceived national interests; interests that are often driven directly by leaders who promote a culture of grievance.
  3. The rise of nationalistic, totalitarian, saber rattling leadership styles in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, the Middle East, and now in the US should ring history’s warning bells for us. Such styles of leadership pose inherent dangers to world peace.
  4. A new tripartite arms race between the three preeminent military powers of Russia, China, and the US seems to echoes a prescient return to a 1914 world. As then, so now, governments seem to favor only one international relations philosophy; that in the zero-sum game, we will always win.
  5. Totalitarian, nationalistic, and jingoistic regimes often view war as the primary tool for distracting their populations from more pressing domestic tensions.

An uncomfortable Christian truth

I return to Wilfred Owen’s most challenging words: pure Christianity will not fit with pure patriotism.

At the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month, 1918, the guns on the Western Front fell silent. Yet, although his life was cut short by a matter of days from celebrating this event, in his poem The Parable of the Old Man and the Young, Wilfred Owen, drawing on the Biblical story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac offered a deeper and unfortunately more enduring truth about the nature of human political leadership.

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an Angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.


 O God of earth and Altar

For All the Saints…

                                      A sermon from the Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs


A couple of years ago a group of children and teachers sat in a circle in the Memorial Garden as I explained a few of the major points about the celebration of All Saints. I told them that Halloween is the night when people used to say spirits walked the earth and so they faced their fear by disguising themselves with masks and costumes so they wouldn’t be recognized by ghosties and ghoulies. I told the kids that the word Halloween is short for All Hallow’s Eve—the Eve of the Feast of All Saints, when we celebrate the greats of the Church—people of special devotion and courage, many of whom died for their faith in Jesus. And following All Saints is All Souls’ Day when we commemorate the lives of all of those people who have gone before us—people who have died but who we miss, and remember with love. In our church today we tend to celebrate All Saints and All Souls together—remembering the famous (big S) Saints—like our St. Martin, and St. Theresa and newest Saint Oscar Romero, as well as the little ‘s’ saints, like grandma or Uncle Harry, all on the same day.

So that was the basic spiel as we sat together, surrounded by the memories of many of the loved ones of St. Martin’s. A little hand went up. I paused. A quiet voice said, “My mommy says she’s going to die, but not for a long, long time.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

The other children in the group took it calmly. The grownups, however, rushed into the gap with words of reassurance for the little speaker and the rest of the children, desperately hoping we could handle any of the difficult questions that might follow.  There weren’t any. The kids were fine—but the teachers were sweating.

Such a simple statement of truth and hope. But out of the mouth of a child, these words called to mind some of the most difficult conversations of our lives.

I don’t want clinical trials. I want to enjoy my family and say goodbye on my own terms. You need to know where the important files are and that you’ll be okay when I’m gone. I want to die at home. I want to be buried next to my spouse. I’m ready to die. I’m afraid to die. All difficult conversations!

And in the event of sudden and untimely death, the conversations are even more painful, usually beginning with shock and tears. And then, Why? Or, If only… If only she hadn’t gone there. If only I had been there.

Jesus wept

We are afraid of death. Our society spends a lot of time, energy and money trying to fend it off and to deny its hold over us. But if we have to be honest, for most of us it’s not death that scares us; it’s dying. Fear of pain and frailty. Fear of lingering and being a burden.  And even when it is death that we fear, it’s not so much our own as that of those we love—we’re terrified of facing the gaping hole in the universe that will be left when a loved one dies.

Death frightens us. But if we are serious about our Christian faith, death isn’t, in itself, scary. For, to us, death is not an end, it’s a change. A pretty radical change, yes, but it is a transformation from one kind of life to another. That is what our faith teaches.

But it’s hard to hold onto that. Because we are creatures that don’t, as a rule, like change. And if we don’t like the small changes in life, we’re sure not going to have an easy time embracing The Big One; for ourselves, or for anyone we care about.

And so we grieve. And thus this morning we can connect with Mary and Martha and Jesus on a fundamental level as they confront the death of Lazarus, their brother, and friend. Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

Our Gospel today is one usually reserved for late in Lent; considered in the context of Jesus’ journey to the Cross, rich in parallel imagery of tomb, stone and burial wrapping—a microcosm of the great drama of Salvation, foreshadowing Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yes, it is all of that. But for right now it is a portrait of grief.

Of weeping.

Of accusation.

Of “if only”.

This is a scene that tugs at the heart. Many can identify with the sense of loss, confusion, and even anger felt by those crowded around the tomb; some glad of Jesus’ presence, others wondering what took him so long…  His emotional response is unexpected—no divinely stoic reaction here—this is a man expressing grief—whether for his friend or for his own impending death doesn’t really matter. Note that John doesn’t just mention Jesus’ reaction in passing—he points to it three times: He began to weep …greatly disturbed in spirit… deeply moved… Different translations phrase it different ways, but the significant point is that Jesus’ grief mirrors our own when we face death: We weep, we are moved, we are troubled, we are disturbed. This repetition indicates that it is as important that we know Jesus feels the pain of grief as it is that we know Jesus raises his friend from the dead. We see his human vulnerability and his divine nature in equal measure.

And it is this combination that is crucial to how we understand this passage today. New Testament Professor Brian Peterson notes that, while we can easily see the raising of Lazarus as a sign of God’s promise to raise us on the last day, as Martha confesses to Jesus, we also need to see the Jesus who reaches out to his friend and calls him by name: Lazarus, come out!… Unbind him, and let him go.

This isn’t just about Lazarus. It’s not just about something that happened then. And it isn’t just about the future; a foreshadowing of the coming of Christ at the end of time. It’s about Jesus now; the Jesus who embodies life and hope for us in the present moment because his power to defeat death lies most profoundly in his compassion for those who suffer.

Jesus weeps with us

The life of Jesus calls out to us now in all of our tombs of grief and despair; in all of the myriad kinds of death, disillusionment and cynicism that threaten to bind us in knots and bury us in fear and anxiety. The love of Jesus grieves with us; it does not save us from suffering and difficulty, but it does sustain us through it.

This is what the Saints knew. This is the Jesus that they loved and followed, that they served every time they fed the hungry or cared for the sick. The Jesus that they often died for.

Often we think of Saints as people of the past, whose exemplary and faithful lives we read about in biography and see in our stained glass windows. But our faith teaches us that they are not just figures of the past, or of an eschatological future. The Saints inspire us and are present with us now, which is why we celebrate them—as people who toiled and fought and lived and died because they loved Jesus, and whose faithful lives give us the courage to meet the challenges that confront us today and in the days to come. We are knit together, as this morning’s Collect says—knit together in communion and fellowship.

Retired Bishop Steven Charleston, first Native American Bishop of the Episcopal Church offers this beautiful description:

They are watching over us, all those who have gone before. They are our ancestors and they have seen enough in their own lives to know what we are going through. They have survived economic collapse, social unrest, political struggle, even great wars that raged for years. Now from their place of peace they seek to send their wisdom into our hearts, to guide us to reconciliation, to show us the mistakes before we make them. Their love for us is strong. Their faith in us is certain. When times get hard sit quietly and open your spirit to the eternal grandparents who are still a part of your spiritual world. Receive their blessing for their light will lead you home.



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