‘Jesus Wept’ – 31st October 2021 – All Saints Sunday

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21 10 31 All Saints order of service



The Readings


Wisdom 3. 1 - 9
A reading from the Wisdom of Solomon.
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt-offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
They will govern nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord will reign over them for ever.
Those 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.
John 11. 32 - 44
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his
feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would
not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who
came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and
deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to
him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So 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?’
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a
cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the
stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord,
already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would
see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus
looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I
knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of
the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’
When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come
out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips
of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them,
‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org 

The Sermon

By Canon Dr Alan Billings


A famous theologian was once asked to sum up the Christian faith in a sentence. This was a man whose entire career was spent thinking, teaching and writing about Christianity. He wrote twenty six volumes of theology. And now he was asked to capture the essence of it all in a sentence.
What is the gospel? In a sentence.
He thought for a moment, and then said, ‘Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.’
He quoted the first line of a well-known children’s hymn. Well, well-known to us because we speak English. Perhaps not so well-known in Switzerland where he was a professor, unless that is they had seen the film, The Bodyguard, in which Whitney Houston and Michelle Lamar Richards, the Marron sisters, sing it together.
But the professor was sure that if you knew those few words you could work outwards from them to understand all the key messages of the Christian faith. ‘Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.’
Now if someone were to ask me to sum up Christianity in a sentence I might point them to today’s gospel reading. And in it to the shortest sentence in the bible. It’s usually translated into English in two words - ‘Jesus wept’ - though the version in our reading unnecessarily doubles it to four words ‘Jesus began to weep’.  Let’s stick with ‘Jesus wept’.
Two words. Two crucial words which give us the answer to so many questions that we or others might have about our faith.
What I mean is this.
When I was last a vicar I had a woman in my congregation who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I’ll call her Joan. Joan had but a short time to live. She was fifty three. It came as a terrible shock to her.
Over the few remaining months of her life I visited Joan many times but could never be sure what her mood would be, something that her husband found really difficult. We had times of deep depression and utter despair. She said little or nothing and cried a great deal. Then there were moments of calm reflection, looking back over her life, recalling some things with real pleasure. On these occasions she would smile. But the most difficult visits were when Joan was angry – very, very angry. An anger that often robbed her of whatever strength she had that day. And her anger was usually, sooner or later, directed at God.
She had questions. They often came down to asking whether she had been right to have faith in God at all. Given what she was going through, was it true, could it be true, that God cared – cared for her? This questioning mood made God seem very remote. Remote, cold, uncaring – a million light years away from her and her anguish.
At these moments I would sometimes read some of these verses to her – not to make any point about life after death, but to say something about the nature of God.
‘Jesus wept’. If Jesus is God in human form, living among us, then what we have in the reading today is a window onto God. ‘Jesus wept’. And if Jesus wept, God wept.
The emotions we feel as human beings are the emotions God feels. This is why you can have the seeming paradox of Jesus on the cross asking the same question as Joan. She too suffered and part of her suffering, as with Jesus, was knowing that her life was coming to its close. She cried out in anger: ‘God, are you bothered, do you really care?’ Jesus cried out in the same anger and pain on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.’
And that is the paradox that lies at the heart of our faith, the God we cry to – do you not understand, do you not care? - is the one who knows what it is like to feel, as a human being, abandoned by God. ‘Why have you forsaken me?’
I read these words to Joan for another reason, and that is to do with what becomes of us after death.
Today’s gospel reading is a story about a man who died being restored to life by Jesus. But I wouldn’t want to pin any ideas of life with God after death on that. After all, the restoration of Lazarus is like every miracle, a temporary affair in this life. The sick who are made well will get sick again. Lazarus will die. If that were not true, Lazarus would still be around somewhere, aged 2020 plus.
No, all miracles are temporary and passing. What is not temporary or passing is what is revealed about God in this verse. Jesus wept.
Jesus was – as the passage says – deeply moved at the death of his friend.  And it is on that that I would base my understanding of what happens to us after death. If God in Jesus is moved at the death of Lazarus, and wants to restore their relationship, will he not also be moved at the ending through death of the relationship we have with him. And will he not seek to restore it in his nearer presence?
As I said, these two words – Jesus wept -are key to our understanding of God, in this world and the next.

The Prayers

From Common Worship: Times and Seasons


We pray for the coming of God’s kingdom.
You sent your Son to bring good news to the poor,
sight to the blind,
freedom to captives
and salvation to your people:
anoint us with your Spirit;
rouse us to work in his name.
Father, by your Spirit
bring in your kingdom.
Send us to bring help to the poor
and freedom to the oppressed.
Father, by your Spirit
bring in your kingdom.
Send us to tell the world
the good news of your healing love.
Father, by your Spirit
bring in your kingdom.
Send us to those who mourn,
to bring joy and gladness instead of grief.
Father, by your Spirit
bring in your kingdom.
Send us to proclaim that the time is here
for you to save your people.Father, by your Spirit
bring in your kingdom.
Lord of the Church,
hear our prayer,
and make us one in mind and heart
to serve you in Christ our Lord. Amen.
Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is used here is copyright © The Archbishops' Council 20xx