John 11:35: Jesus wept. I learned it in Sunday School as the shortest verse in the Bible. (Just to be fair to my Sunday School teachers, all of whom are of sainted memory at this point – I learned lots of more important stuff, too. But it is amazing how the trivia sticks with you.) The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which is the translation we use now in worship, renders that verse a little differently, so that what I read for you today was “Jesus began to weep.” It’s slightly longer, and I’m sad to say it’s no longer officially the shortest verse. But it’s still pretty brief. However, I would say to you that the meaning of the verse is not trivial and once you think about it for a bit, its impact will not be brief.
Think about it: our Lord Jesus cried very real, very human tears of heartbreak, loss, and anguish. Don’t imagine a single tear running silently down his face. The original language suggests more that he burst into tears. So don’t think of a quiet tear or two slipping from Jesus’ eyes. Picture him bursting into tears with shuddering sobs. This is grief at its most raw – the kind that leaves your eyes stinging, your throat burning, and your body exhausted. Jesus wept.
You may well wonder why he wept. He knew that in just a few minutes, his friend Lazarus would walk right out of that tomb as alive as you and I. And he knew that although eventually Lazarus would die a second time, a final time, as we all will, that after death comes another life where death and mourning and crying and pain are no more and where God wipes away every tear. And yet still, Jesus wept.
Of course he did. He was, after all, a human being like all of us. And we know that death is heart-breaking, even for Christians. Was Jesus weeping for Martha and Mary, seeing the grief that they were experiencing? Probably. Was Jesus weeping that his friend, Lazarus, if only for a few days, had to know the pain of death? I imagine. Was Jesus even weeping because death was not part of God’s original plan for us? Quite possibly. And does Jesus still weep with and for us in our grief and pain? Quite definitely. Jesus weeps – and so do we from time to time. And that’s okay.
But Jesus did not only weep. He also lifted his voice in praise and thanks to God. As do we! We mourn those who are no longer with us, and at the same time we sing a song of praise to God who watched over them in this life, and who continues to watch over them in the next. We cry tears of sadness, while at the same time we shed tears of gratitude for love that never ends. We remember what was, treasure what is, and look forward to what will be.
All Saints Sunday is Christ’s Church at its best. Its message of hope is clear. Never are we as aware as we are today that, alone as we may sometimes feel, we are not. We are not alone. We are all permanently and profoundly loved by God, who has promised never to leave us alone. That’s what makes us saints – we are beloved children of God, gifted with God’s never-failing presence.
And today is Christ’s Church at its best because community is so obvious. We are connected to one another across time and space. Take a moment to look around at the other people gathered here. And give thanks. These are the saints whom God has called to help you on your journey of faith now. Then, when you come to receive communion, take a moment to look at the candles which will be burning brightly in the sand, representing those who supported us on our journey in the past. And give thanks. And finally, in a way that cannot be explained, we are connected to those who will come after us, unknown to us now, but already known by God. And as well, we are connected to all the people around the globe who have ever, are now, or will ever serve as disciples of Jesus Christ. This is, as St. Paul would call it, the great crowd of witnesses who surround us. That’s what makes us saints together. Let us give thanks.
This day reminds us that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves – something mysterious and powerful and gloriously inexplicable and life-giving – and that something is the Communion of the Saints, the Body of Christ, God’s one holy catholic and apostolic church. Together, as the church, we sing even as we cry; we hope even as we despair; and we celebrate even as we mourn. It’s messy. It’s complicated. But it’s real and true and glorious because it is our life in Christ. This is what it means to be a saint.