Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Gift of Joy and Wonder: A Homily for All Saints Day and a Celebration of Holy Baptism

Homily for All Saints Day, Year B, 2009
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 11:32-44

Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?
--John 11:41

The culminating prayer in our baptismal liturgy petitions God to give the candidates of baptism “the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.” I certainly realize that as we travel this road of life that it can often be difficult to find and experience joy and wonder. Our souls have such a deep longing for these things, though. The birth of children and the welcoming of these children into the household of God is a moment in which we seek to claim God’s joy and wonder for them and for ourselves. It is a moment in which we see the road of life begin to open with glorious possibilities. It is a road of mystery, in the best sense of sacred mystery, in which we affirm our belief that God’s loving hand and life-giving Spirit will forever guide and animate the journey of this life for each and every Christian person.

This is a claim we make even amidst the troubles of the day. We have seen a people gripped by fear this past week as worries about the H1H1 virus have caused long line-ups at vaccination clinics. To a large degree, we have cause to be frightened, for we have seen the all-too frightening consequences of this virus. Fear exerts a power over us that threatens to tear the fabric of society and our souls. Whether or not the vaccination program has been competently administered is not a matter that is with my expertise and I am not capable of judging it. Yet, consider the anger, frustration, and panic that has been exhibited as people fear they will lose their place in line, or not get the vaccination in time. Consider what such anger, frustration and panic does to our community, and consider what it does to our souls.

In a town called Bethany, not far from Jerusalem, a dear friend of Jesus had fallen ill. Jesus, that great healer, did not get there on time and Lazarus died. When he finally arrived, Lazarus’ sister Mary was beside herself with grief. Panic and perhaps even anger had given way to despondency. She dropped to the feet of her Lord and wept bitterly, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And he joined her in her tears, Jesus himself wept.

Then words of derision came from the crowd, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” We know the rest of the story, the stone is rolled away, and Jesus utters the words “Lazarus, come forth!” And the dead man walks again.

For those in our lives who walk with pain and loss, in particular the loss of ones so dear, this passage may, on the surface, be cold comfort. We do not see the dead raised as Lazarus was raised. Yet, I would ask us to consider one oft-neglected phrase uttered by Jesus before he raised Lazarus, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

Jesus entered a town filled with fear, with anger, with frustration about him and about his ministry. He was met with derision and unbelief. Yet as the people wept, he wept, and as the people’s hearts were filled with trouble, so was his heart troubled. He joined them in depth of their despair and suffered alongside them -- Lazarus was his friend, too, remember.

But even as his heart was troubled and even as he wept with them, he reminded them of a promise he made, that if they believed they would see God’s glory. On that day in Bethany, when belief was so hard, God’s glory broke through. The miracle they witnessed was a miracle that pointed to the greatest miracle this world has ever known, the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The raising of Lazarus, as grand as it might seem to us who have not witnessed such things, is but a sign of the act of God that would restore life to the world. On that day in Bethany, when all seemed lost, God revealed his glory to a hurting and wounded people. He gave them the gift of faith, of belief, and the gift of joy and wonder.

Baptism is not inoculation to the pains and hurts of this life. It is not a vaccine that will protect us from illness or mortal death. Rather, baptism is the claim of a loving God on our lives that we shall never be left alone in such moments and that even in the midst of pain, grief, loss, frustration, anger and fear, God will reveal his glory. God does not bring these things upon us, and yet, somehow in divine mystery, just as he did in a lowly stable, God enters in, unexpected and unbidden and we behold his glory. Baptism is about saying “yes” to that glory; it is about believing in the light that shines in the darkness.

Thus, we welcome today these new Christians. We know that at times their lives will be easy and at other times, difficult. Yet we welcome them in full confidence and knowledge that they belong to Christ and that at the most unexpected moments along the road, he shall reveal himself to them and they shall marvel with joy and wonder at all his glorious works.

c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

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