A horizon of hope

Sermon for All Saints’ Day

As we listen for the word of God, let us pray:

God, almighty in love,
you have come among us in Christ,
whose word brings life to the dead;
keep us looking for that day
when tears will be no more,
and all suffering and loss will pass away;
when with all your saints,we shall see your face and be like your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings
Revelation 21.1-6a
John 11.32-44

This past week, many of us have shed tears and grieved and felt helpless as we prepared for N’s funeral, and as it took place on Friday with all the amazing pageantry of a military funeral. And there were tears there too, some in the eyes of soldiers.

In the Lectionary readings for All Saints’ Day, there are two verses about tears.

John 11.35 says, in the old KJV language, ‘Jesus wept.’

Revelation 21 says, ‘God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.’

Which verse appeals more to you? It’s a hard choice. Each one is of immeasurable help to the Christian believer.

Jesus wept. Jesus wept in the face of death. Some of you may remember Neville Wran, the former Labor premier of New South Wales, who famously said back in 1983, ‘Balmain boys don’t cry.’ Well, Jesus cried, and probably Balmain boys do too these days, now it’s gentrified and in Paul Keating’s words, populated by ’the basket weavers of Balmain’.

If I say it’s good to shed tears when you need to, I am probably going to find general agreement. You may have heard the Jewish proverb, ‘Tears are the medicine of the soul’. That doesn’t mean everyone here will find it easy to cry, especially us blokes.

We males are taught early that crying is girlie stuff. (Is that so bad??!) I read during the week of an eight year old girl who was about to go into surgery. She said, ‘May I cry or should I be brave?’ She wasn’t just having a wart removed. This little girl was about to have her leg amputated. I think it’s very sad that she needed to ask that question, May I cry or should I be brave?

What would you have said to this little girl? And what if it were a boy asking the question—would you have told him to be a brave little man and not cry?

In the story of Lazarus, Jesus wept in the face of death, even though he was about to bring Lazarus back. Jesus wept even though he could say, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ Tears are the medicine of the soul.

Yet our reading from Revelation tells us that ‘God…will wipe every tear from their eyes.’

It’s not that tears will no longer be helpful once the new creation comes in all its fullness and beauty and power and completion. It is that tears just won’t be needed any more. That’s because in that new creation,

Death will be no more; 
mourning and crying and pain 
will be no more, 
for the first things have passed away.

Now we need tears, but in that day we’ll need them no longer. The things that cause tears—death, pain, suffering—will have gone. ’The first things [will] have passed away.’

Right now, we live in the time of the first things. We have wars and rumours of wars, we have famine and earthquake and tsunami. We have death. There are times for tears. But one day, God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

I want to tell you about one of my favourite films of all time. It’s called Places in the Heart. It’s not just that Sally Field is the female lead. (True confession: I fell in love with Sally Field when I was about fourteen, and I still haven’t quite got over it.) And it’s not just because there are plenty of tears in the film.

Places in the Heart is set in a small town in Texas in the 1930s. There are plenty of tears in this film. It opens with a drunk young African American man accidental shooting the town sheriff, obviously a highly-thought of and wonderful man. This black man is soon lynched. Two dead men in the first five minutes.

The sheriff’s widow, Sally Field, is helped along the way by a bunch of misfits including Moze, a black labourer. Towards the end of the film, Moze has to leave town or suffer the consequences, because a number of the respectable men of the town are members of the Ku Klux Klan.

As I said, there have been tears aplenty in this film. Grief and loss permeate the lives of these people.

In the last scene, we are in a Communion service. The church isn’t full, there are some spaces in the pews, but a number of the people we have met in the story of Places in the Heart are there. There are Sally Field, of course, and her two children; there’s a young John Malkovitch playing a blind man; there’s a hypocritical church deacon; there’s a wife who you’ll see forgiving her husband’s infidelity right there in church.

As the bread and wine are passed from one to the other, we notice something very strange. There are more people there than there were before. There are floozies and barflies, there are members of the KKK. Moze, the black man, is there too. And right at the end, the sheriff and the man who killed him are sharing communion together.

In the Creed, we confess that we believe in the ‘communion of saints’. In this meal, not only are those who are present invited, but those who have gone before us are also with us—because they are alive in Christ.

In the Feast of All Saints, we are reminded that countless men and women have walked the walk of faith for centuries before us and they have overcome. Their tears have been wiped from their eyes. That gives us reason to believe that we can walk the way of faith too.

Friends, the time for tears is not gone. ‘The first things’ are still here. But the new creation is coming. And in the meal of Communion, we have an anticipation of the second things, when God will wipe every tear from every eye.

There’s still some crying to do. But those who have gone before us, those whose tears are now dry, are with us as we gather around the table. I want you to notice today’s introduction to the Holy, holy, holy Lord:

Today we praise you 
with saints and martyrs,
and the faithful of every age
who have followed Christ 
and witnessed to his resurrection.
From every race and tongue,
from every people and nation,
you have gathered them into your kingdom.

Holy, holy, holy Lord…

Those who have gone before us are guests with us at every Holy Communion meal. We have communion with the Lord, and with the Lord’s people of every race and tongue and time. Can we dare to believe that N is with us today? Can we dare to believe that Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life?

Tears. They’re good for us in a world of suffering. But tears will end, because pain and suffering and death itself will end. This is the promise of God.

The home of God will be among us. 
God will dwell with us, 
and wipe every tear from their eyes. 
Death will be no more; 
mourning and crying and pain 
will be no more.

Every Communion meal gives us a renewed chance to know this afresh. Let us celebrate with joy.

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