Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44
I didn’t watch the video. I didn’t want to see. Hearing was difficult enough.
The BBC reporter in his detached newscaster voice shared the dying 6-year-old Yemini boy’s plea to the doctors working on his body, his small body badly injured by a missile that struck his house. The boy, in tears, said, “Don’t bury me.” A reporter shared the footage of Fareed’s last words on his Facebook page and after the little boy died it went viral. The story on the BBC website is titled, “A dying boy’s plea that became an iconic message for peace.” The BBC reports that a Yemini activist posted on Facebook, “Just like young Aylan (Kurdis) death encapsulated the tragedy of the Syrian people, Fareed’s plea not to be buried encapsulates the tragedy of the Yemini people.”
I am embarrassed to admit that I had to Google “conflict in Yemen” to be reminded of who was fighting whom and why. Syria had been on my mind and in my prayers, but not Yemen. In recent days I have been trying to both keep in mind and push from my consciousness the photos in Time magazine’s special report, “Exodus.” The images are black and white, featuring young men and old women, children carried on their parents’ shoulders and trudging along behind them, all of them with looks of painful determination on their faces. The report offers daunting statistics like, “If this population were a country, it would be the world’s 24th largest.” “Half of all refugees are children.” I want to hold these realities close. I want to forget them completely.
Then I hear of a little boy, begging the adults surrounding him, “Don’t bury me” and I feel accountable. I feel compelled to remember Aylan and Fareed on this All Saints’ Day. This November 1, as I remember my beloved father-in-law who died way too soon and my grandparents and church members I have buried and miss, I also feel a need to remember those in the communion of the saints I don’t know but dare not forget.
The texts for this week in Isaiah and in Revelation are about community on the grandest scale. They are about God’s long awaited redemption of whole peoples, of the entire creation, a new heaven and a new earth, after all. Listen to the scope of this redemption in Isaiah:
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines … and he 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.”
Hear the intimacy of this relationship in Revelation: “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.”
There is both a powerful expansiveness and a tender closeness in these texts that call on us to lift up both God’s majesty and God’s immediacy for us and for all people. This is ALL Saints’ day. God hasn’t forgotten Aylan or Fareed. Nor has God neglected the ones you have loved and miss, the saints in the cemetery behind the church or the ones interred in the columbarium beside it. We need to remember them all.
Don’t bury them. Don’t imagine that death has the last word, either. Too often resurrection is left to Easter Sunday; we don’t even observe the entire season. It is as if we can only suspend our disbelief in the finality of death for a few hours, once a year. We sing alleluia and then live as if Jesus never left the tomb, relegating the tragedies of our time to the category of inevitable, insurmountable and beyond hope. We ignore the pleas of Fareed. We allow the rhythms of the news cycle to focus and frame our attention even as vast numbers of people continue to suffer long after the cameras are turned off. We recite the correct faith statement, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day … I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” But we fail to act on that belief, ignoring Jesus’ command to move the stone. We neglect to unbind the ones Jesus has called forth from the grave.
All Saints’ Day is a day to preach resurrection, to have the audacity to proclaim that death, destruction, violence, and pain aren’t ultimate. All three of these texts for All Saints’ Day are about God’s ability and certain promise to bring about long awaited and seemingly impossible reconciliation, redemption and life. The question we have to ask ourselves and those gathered is: Do you believe this?
This is a Sunday to invite people to dare to believe in what much of the world says is impossible and then ask them to live in ways that reflect that radical belief: God hears and heeds the pleas of all of his children crying, “Don’t bury me.” God’s home is among mortals. God destroys the shrouds that have been cast over all peoples. The Lord wipes away the tears of Fareed and all faces. God is creating a new heaven and a new earth. Death and mourning and crying will be no more. Do you believe this?
Remember ALL the saints this Sunday, hear the cries of the vulnerable, look at the haunting photos, grieve for the suffering in the world and the sadness in the room, but do not grieve as those without hope, instead grieve as those who expect to see the glory of God. Don’t forget we are followers of the God of resurrection, the ones who go down to the grave singing alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Trusting in the truth that through Christ death has been and will be defeated, we can get to work, rolling away grave stones and unbinding those Jesus has brought back to life, no matter how many there are, no matter how many days have past.
- One commentator writes, “John’s gospel begins with a wedding and ends with a funeral.” (Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John crossmarks.com) What do you think the significance of this is?
- Read John chapter 11 in its entirety. Note the similarities and differences in Martha and Mary’s response to Jesus. Pay attention to how Jesus’ giving of life leads to the call for Jesus’ death.
- This story in John reveals an emotional Jesus. Jesus is deeply moved, he weeps, he is disturbed. Are there other Gospel stories where Jesus is described in this way? Are we comfortable with this level of emotion in Jesus?
- Is there a danger in holding up these promises of no more suffering when people are suffering? How are texts like these helpful to those in the midst of profound loss? How are they potentially problematic?
- Include our Presbyterian mission partners working in the Middle East and other parts of the world in the prayers of the people. You can find their names here.
- Use this prayer in your daily devotions this week:
Eternal God, hope of all who trust in you,
in Christ you weep with those who mourn
even as you cry out in triumph over the grave.
Unbind us from sin, release us from captivity,
and with Lazarus, raise us from death to life,
so that we may join that great crowd of saints
who forever sing praise to your holy name;
through Christ, the resurrection and the life.
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