Scripture Readings: Isaiah 25:6–9 | Psalm 24 | Revelation 21:1–6 | John 11:32–44
“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’”
Today we celebrate together the feast of All Saints, remembering that in Christ we share in His holy, world-wide communion… stretching not only across the globe, but across all ages as well. Each one of us who belong to Christ… our Parish family… we never stand alone, but belong together in God’s eternal Kingdom.
Our Scripture readings today highlight an enduring message of hope for God’s people, empowering us to faithfully persevere even in the face of despair.
Our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah came at a dark time in Israel’s past: the ancient empire of Assyria was violently dominating the whole region, and had just overrun and carried off the Northern Kingdom of Israel into Exile. The Southern Kingdom of Judah was now surrounded… hemmed in by hostile nations, and living under the constant threat of losing everything. In this dark time the Living God sent Isaiah, to remind His people to stand firm and be faithful to their LORD, trusting in Him even in the face of their powerful enemies.
Today’s reading stands out in Isaiah as a surprisingly hope-filled passage… promising not just Judah’s deliverance, but God’s ultimate victory, not through destruction and death, like the Assyrians… but through the destruction of death.
Isaiah paints a picture of universal peace… of the Living God drawing all peoples to Jerusalem to share in a splendid feast. And the LORD Himself will “destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 25:7-8). A royal feast for all, death itself destroyed, God wiping away the tears from every eye… this is the future hope of God’s eternal Kingdom.
We know this wasn’t the end of Judah’s troubles. Not by a long-shot. But they would hold onto this hopeful promise, for centuries to come… helping them to trust in the LORD, and in His saving love.
Our second reading today from the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation draws on and renews the message God gave to Isaiah. Revelation was written near the end of the first century A.D., at a time when followers of Christ could expect to face serious trouble as well. As the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, Christians were often the target of official persecution, or rejection from their old communities for embracing this new way of life.
In Revelation, John shares an epic vision, rich with symbolic imagery drawing together all of the themes that run throughout the Scriptures… and opening up our eyes to see our world from God’s perspective. It is an intense, startling, and all too frequently misunderstood message, drawing our attention to the ultimate end of the ages. And again, Revelation points us towards the arrival of God’s eternal Kingdom, calling for Christians to remain faithful to Christ even in the face of death.
This time though, it’s not just the nations that are being gathered together, but Heaven and Earth are reconciled, united together for good through the victory of Jesus; the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Our reading today is the consummation of God’s great rescue mission… the ultimate wedding feast celebrating His perfect salvation… destroying every obstacle that keeps us from His love:
“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them /as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
God Himself will be with them. Death will be no more. The LORD will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Again, we are given a glimpse of God’s eternal Kingdom, promised to us by the one who is “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
We know that Christians continued to face all sorts of persecution over the centuries, and in many places today our brothers and sisters still suffer for Jesus’ sake. But this vision of God’s eternal Kingdom of life continues to carry us through… providing us with the hope that our Saviour will have the final say.
These days, of course, we face our own challenges, temptations, and fears. Each generation of God’s people have our own narrow path to tread. Right now, most of us are concerned with the health and wellbeing of our loved ones, our friends, or even ourselves. We’re feeling cut off, and isolated from those we long to be with. We’re uncertain about the future of every aspect of our lives. We’re in need today of a hope that we can truly hold onto.
Our Gospel reading reminds us that the Christian hope is not just for some distant day at the end of time… No, God’s eternal Kingdom has already broken into human history in Jesus Christ. Our reading today gives us a hope-filled glimpse of His ultimate victory, as our Saviour comes face to face with the death of someone He loves.
There are many miracle stories in the Gospels, accounts of Jesus restoring the broken bodies… and spirits… and families of His people. But today we hear that He comes to bring the restoration of His friends… Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, who had all been torn apart by Lazarus’ death. This is one of the most stirring and striking stories in all of Scripture, pointing us to the climax of the cross that is soon to come, and it is well worth more time and reflection than we can give to it this morning.
But as our Saviour, the incarnate King of glory confronts death at the tomb of Lazarus, He reveals God’s life-giving power for us even now… inviting you and I to see where Christ can be found today in the midst of our darkest moments…. bringing His eternal Kingdom near.
How does Jesus reveal God’s eternal Kingdom of life in the face of death? First of all, He weeps. Jesus grieves at the grave of His friend.
Too often in Church, we have this picture of Jesus untouched by pain or tragedy. We might see Him as merciful, or compassionate, but in a distant, untroubled way. We assume for Jesus to be God’s Son, all-knowing and all-powerful, nothing could really disturb His sense of composure or peace. But what if the fact that Jesus is God’s Son… that He fully shares in the power and knowledge of the Trinity, what if that actually makes Him more open to being moved by the suffering and grief of His people, not less? What if, in taking on our human flesh, Jesus did not hold back, but actually bears our griefs and sorrows like the prophet Isaiah says?
“He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5).
Jesus our Saviour weeps with Mary and Martha at the grave of Lazarus, and He weeps with us, suffering with us in His love. This simple act tells us that it is not wrong for Christians to grieve. That having hope does not leave us unmoved by the pain and loss that we and others face. Rather, it shows us that we are called to share in the suffering of others. St. Augustine once said “Why did Christ weep except to teach us to weep?” As we wait for God’s eternal Kingdom in which He will wipe every tear away, Christ calls us today to mourn with those who mourn, just as He does. To make known God’s unfailing love to the brokenhearted.
Our Saviour teaches us to weep, but also to believe. To place our faith in Him, not only to grieve but to give life. Even in the midst of their pain, Jesus invites Martha and Mary to trust Him, and if they do, despite all their fears, “they will see the glory of God.” (John 11:40). Jesus then prays, not for His own sake, but that all those present may come to believe that God the Father always hears the prayers of His beloved Son.
We too are invited to put our confidence and trust in Jesus Christ, placing our future hopes and present fears into His loving hands, that He may intercede for us… praying on our behalf… bringing us with all our cares and sorrows to the Father, who so loved the world that He sent the Son to rescue us.
We can all think up lots of reasons not to believe in Jesus, but we are assured that faith in Him is truly the path to life. As the scholar Ben Myers puts it: “At the center of the Christian faith is not an idea or a theory or even a vision of life but the name of a person, Jesus Christ. Our faith centers on personal attachment to him.” And as our Gospel reading today reminds us when we do believe in Him, all sorts of glorious, life-giving surprises await.
For Jesus does more than mourn, and invite us to trust in Him… in the words of a beautiful old hymn: “He speaks, and listening to His voice new life the dead receive.” Against all hope… all reasonable expectations… Jesus calls for Lazarus to come out of the tomb… out of death… and he obeys. No longer the undefeatable foe, the grave gives way before the Lord of Life. A foretaste of Christ’s final victory at the cross, and Easter morning.
For that is when God’s eternal Kingdom of life truly began… the first moment when death itself was swallowed up “forever.” N.T. Wright makes this point: “Lazarus came back into ordinary human life. For him, the process of death was simply reversed. He could still become ill again. One day, he too would die… But the journey Jesus would make would be through death and out the other side into a new sort of life. One which will never taste death again.
This is the same New Life that Jesus offers to those who trust in Him; that passing through death united to Him, we await a resurrection life. Reunited with all the saints all who trust in Christ throughout the ages, gathered together at God’s table for all eternity. Where every tear from every eye is wiped away in His love. Sharing in the eternal Kingdom Christ won for us all at the cross.
Christians believe in the Communion of Saints; that in Christ Jesus, all believers are bound together in ways that even death cannot break. Whether we are isolated, or surrounded by our sisters and brothers… whether we feel cut off, or are able to be embraced… whether we died millennia ago, or will live ‘til the Lord returns, we are all one, always, together in Christ with all the saints.
So may our fellowship with one another be shaped by this beautiful truth. May we bear each other’s burdens, and support one another in times of sorrow. May we spur one another on to grow stronger together in our faith. May we serve God’s eternal Kingdom today, sharing Christ’s self-giving love. And may we rejoice as we remember that our world ends in life together. Amen.
 St. Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 49.19. Quoted in Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle B (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011), 252.
 Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, ed. Todd Hains, Jeff Reimer, and Sarah Awa, Christian Essentials (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 37.
 Charles Wesley, O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing.
 Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11-21 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 15–16.