All Saints Sunday, 5 November 2006
32When 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.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus 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 four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I 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.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The 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.”
Sisters and brothers in Christ,
The dead are held down. The headstone was once a large boulder whose weight kept the ghost of the dead person in the ground. The wooden coffin is nailed shut to keep the dead person from getting out. The stone laid against the opening of the tomb to keep the dead (and their stench) inside. Nowadays we carve peoples’ names on their gravestones to mark where the person lies.
As much as we think of ghosts, spirits, of talking to the dead, or think of souls, there is actually nothing immortal about us humans. There is no soul freed from the body at death. There are no spirits haunting their place of death until they are given peace by a proper burial or revenge for their wrongful murder. That is because death is not only a physical event. It is an event judged by God.
God’s judgment of us results in our death. God judges the quality of who we are, the totality of ourselves and our lives and condemns us. There is nothing and nothing within us that can escape that judgment. There is nothing that gets away from God. There is nothing that gets away from God’s verdict that our lives must end—all must end, not just the body, but the whole person.
Thus, even the idea of soul and the idea of the immortal soul (which is not Biblical, eg. “The soul that sins shall die.”) are not possible. To say there are immortal souls is to defy God’s judgment, and worse, to say we do not need Christ to give our soul immortality.
People will disagree and get very uncomfortable when told there is no immortal soul. That’s because we do no want to feel that our importance ends. We do not want to feel like something that gets used up and then thrown away or recycled. Our guts scream against that final and complete end. We do not want to disappear and be forgotten. To die without a soul is to die without any accomplishment, without meaning, and to be forgotten and worthless.
But that is what God’s prophets have always told the people. The wicked will perish. The evildoers are like chaff that is blown away. But we will protest! We will protest that we are not wicked. We are not evildoers. How dare anyone say that about us!
God dares to say that about us. How dare we contradict God? We do, though, every time we think we deserve better. We contradict God every time we say we deserve a reward from God, every time we want what’s fair, or every time we demand what’s coming to us. To demand something from God is to act without the trust that God is loving and gives us what we need. To demand a reward also means that we do not trust God to give, but instead we doubt that God will give and so want a reward. We do not trust God. We do not love God. Since we do not love God and do not trust God, why would God want such untrusting and unloving souls to live forever or to be immortal or enter heaven? Such wickedness does not belong there. We do not belong there. That is why there are no spirits, no ghosts. God has judged us and put us in a tomb, just like Lazarus was.
But now listen to Jesus. Take away the stone! See the glory of God! See the glory of God in Jesus on a cross. The glory of God is Jesus taking God’s judgment against those who do not love and trust God and dying from it. At the moment of the cross, it is Jesus who does not belong in heaven. He is the one being treated as wicked.
Jesus on the cross ends God’s judgment against us. It is fulfilled. God gives new life to Jesus—resurrects him from the dead. This is no spirit. This is no ghost. Jesus is flesh and blood. Look at his scars—he is the one who died on a cross. This is a new creation where the Spirit of God dwells in us so that we do love God and do have trust in God. We are made new people. We are created new as God’s children. No need for immortal souls. Christ raises us to new life where the old, unloving, untrusting, and unbelieving cannot be. For this is a place of love and trust. And this is a new place where the old cannot come.
Take away the stone! See the glory of God! The old is gone. The new is created. We are made into God’s holy people. God does this work to us. God raises Jesus. God gives us the Holy Spirit. God gives us forgiveness. All of God’s work makes us holy and right to God.
Take away the stone! See the glory of God! God has removed our sin. God has freed us from guilt and judgment. God has made us new by joining us to Christ. God has put us in the tomb with Jesus and buried our distrust and arrogance and hate and greed and anger and prejudice and our violence. Take away the stone! God raises us up in Jesus—new people, new people of love, free of distrust and arrogance and hate and greed. God has made us his saints!
Take away the stone. See the glory of God. For as God has called us out of the tomb, God has made us holy, ready to be called to sacrifice. God has made us holy, so when we hear a people tell us we need to do things in order to grow in holiness, or to do things to be better Christians, or to grow spiritually, we do not need to listen. God has already made us fully holy. Instead of those calls to grow and be better, God calls us to sacrifice. God has prepared us, made us ready to give up treasures, prized possessions, dreams, even those we love, when God’s forgiveness is taken away from others. When God’s love is taken from others by crime, by hate, by the scorn of prejudice, we are called to give up what we have in order to protect the person being harmed. God has made us holy for such holy acts.
Take away the stone. We do not fear cemeteries. We are not afraid of graveyards. We are with Jesus who has power over the dead—the power of forgiveness and resurrection. The unloving come to their end. Jesus on the cross shows us that. There are not spirits, no ghosts, no immortal soul. For which we give thanks because we want to be made new, free from our sinful hearts, free from our unloving souls. See the glory of God, here, among these people, the saints of God. Just as God’s glory is Jesus on a cross, so God’s glory is seen here in our brothers and sisters. All the greatness of God’s glory is in those you see here. Others may look for power and pride and wealth and greatness as signs of God’s glory. But God’s glory is in Jesus crucified. Take away the stone! Look at the saints here. It is glorious.
Pastor Timothy J. Hoyer