This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, All Saints Sunday. The gospel text was John 11:32-44, the raising of Lazarus.
One day, not long after Halloween, a day not unlike today, a monkey came upon a jar filled with Halloween candy. It’s not important how this jar got into the jungle. What’s important is that this monkey found it on the ground. And as he examined it, he saw all the delicious candy inside! He really, really wanted that candy. So he carefully reached his hand in, and he grabbed it. It was in his grasp! He licked his lips, thinking of the chocolate as he pulled his hand out, but…his hand wouldn’t come out. The fist he had made around the chocolate was too big to get back through the opening. He pulled and pulled, but he was stuck! He started to jump up and down, trying to get his hand out. He tried banging the jar on a tree, but that hurt his hand too much. Finally, he sat down on the ground. He gave up. He clung to that candy, but now he knew he’d never get to eat it. In fact, he wondered if he would die out here, stuck in this jar! And he was so sad.
I told that story to a group of kids once, and asked them what they would do if they were there. You know what they said? They said they try to tell the monkey to open his fist and let go, and the jar would fall right off. I asked them to finish the story. They said that the monkey did let go. The jar fell off, and then the monkey jumped in a tree, ate a banana, an apple, and five bugs, and then ran away happy. He never ate the candy!
I told those kids that they were actually a lot like Jesus in that story.
Because just like they set that monkey free, Jesus sets us free from the things we cling to. We don’t tend to cling to chocolate bars in jars. I mean the things we cling to when things are hard. The things we cling to when we are frightened. The things we cling to when death is at the door. All Saints Day is a day we come face to face with death, the reality that death is indeed at the door for each and every one of us. We don’t like to talk about death. It scares us. We don’t even like to say its name. We say that someone has passed, or that they’re no longer with us. It seems harsher, impolite, to say that they have died. But death is real. Some of you will be lighting candles in a few minutes in memory of someone who has died. I have no need to remind you that death is at the door.
But death is at the door for the rest of us as well. Death is not just the end of a life. It’s the end of anything we find hope or comfort in. Death is at the door when we live through any loss, or significant change. A separation or a divorce is a death. A family member or friend moving away is a death. A broken relationship is a death. Diagnosis of a disease is a death. A midterm election like this one can be a death. Death is at the door for us all.
And when death is at the door, we get scared. And of course we do. It’s normal, it’s human. When death is at the door, we cling. Of course we do. It’s normal, it’s human. We cling to memories, to the past. Or perhaps to money, power, or influence. Or perhaps to drugs, alcohol, or food. Or perhaps to ideas or political parties. These things aren’t bad things, but when we cling to them, we turn them into something they’re not. Martin Luther called them our gods, as in the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” We cling to these things, and like the monkey with the jar, we can’t seem to let go.
Jesus, the Son of God, stood before Mary. Mary’s brother Lazarus had just died, and she clung to the idea that death is the end. “If only you’d been here,” she said, “my brother would not have died!” But there’s nothing you can do now.
Jesus, the Son of God, stood before the mourners, and they too clung to the idea that death is the end. “You opened the eyes of the blind man; couldn’t you have kept this man from dying?” But there’s nothing you can do now.
Jesus, the Son of God, stood before Martha, as she clung to the same idea. “Lord, don’t move the stone. There’s already a stench!” Lazarus is dead. You can’t do anything about that, Jesus.
And Jesus, the Son of God, stood before the tomb of Lazarus, and he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”
And Martha’s grip on death being the end was loosened. And Mary’s grip was loosened. And the grips of all the mourners were loosened. Jesus freed them from what they clung to, as the dead man came out.
And that was just a foretaste, a prelude, of what he would soon do on the cross. Through his own death and resurrection Jesus broke death itself. He defeated it. Destroyed it. Neutered it. Undid it. Death has no more power, no more sting. We are set free from death, from every form of death, and so we are set free from what we cling to, whatever we cling to. Christ proclaims to us: There is life. There is life for us here and now. Like the children in the monkey story, Christ reaches into our jar, and slowly, slowly opens our fists. By ourselves, we could never let go! Lazarus didn’t raise himself. Mary and Martha didn’t raise him. But Christ did, and he is raising you up as well, giving you life abundant here and now.
Christ is loosening your grip on whatever you cling to.
You don’t have to free yourself. Let Christ free you. Trust, and have faith in him. And you will find that you are able to deal with what’s in front of you. And you will find that you are able to see glimpses of hope and peace even in the most unlikely place. You will find that there is life. There is always life.
And you will find that you are able to cling to the one thing that we can rely on, the thing that Christ gives us: God’s love. God’s grace. God’s faithfulness. The love of God that speaks to us like Jesus spoke to Martha, “You will see the glory of God.” The love of God that calls to all of us like Jesus called to Lazarus, “My beloved child, come out!” The love of God that in fact clings to us. And you will find that that love is enough. Christ is indeed the resurrection and the life, for us all.