Devotional Message: All Saints Sunday (11/4/2018)


Isaiah 25:6-9

or Wisdom 3:1-9

Psalm 24

Revelation 21:1-6a

St. John 11:32-44

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Text for This Sunday

11:32 When 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.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then 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.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I 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.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The 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.”

St. John 11:32-44, New Revised Standard Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: “Unbind him. Let him go”

It is a powerful story — this story of the raising of Lazarus. So powerful, in fact, that the chief priests and Pharisees call a meeting of the council, and discuss how dangerous Jesus has become. St. John summarizes their deliberations with this haunting sentence: “So from that day on they planned to put him to death.” (NRSV; St. John 11:53) The raising of Lazarus may be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, or it may be an escalation of Jesus’ ministry to an entirely new and unexpected level. Either way, the die is cast. This story is headed for the cross.

The grief of Mary and Martha; the compassion of their Jewish supporters; the angst (and tears!) of Jesus; the command to new life: this is an extraordinary story. A part of the intrigue are the last six words. “Unbind him, and let him go.” It appears that the love and compassion of Jesus is not enough. The power of Jesus’ word is not enough. The victory (albeit temporary…) over death is not enough. The foreshadowing of what is to come is not enough. There still is work to do. And this work is entrusted to all who are there: “Unbind him, and let him go.”

This is a word spoken to the bystanders at the tomb of Lazarus. It is also a word spoken to the people of the early church, and to you and me. Jesus may be our invitation into the kingdom of God — into a life that is eternal — yet we won’t experience it if we are still bound by our past; bound to the ways of this world that bring death and destruction. A key responsibility of the church that takes the name of Jesus is to set us free from what binds us; what prevents us from experiencing the fullness of God’s love and grace.

The saints we remember this coming Sunday are examples of this. They so often are people whose curriculum vitae doesn’t seem to qualify them for the ministry to which they are called. Moses: a stuttering fugitive on the run. David: an adulterer and murderer. Peter: an uneducated fisherman. James and John: followers of Jesus whose ambitions get the best of them. Luther: a hot-tempered German. Each of them bound by their human frailties, yet given new life through the love of God, and set free by the good news of God’s word, through the gathering of God’s people, through the movement of God’s Spirit.

The stories of these Saints come to us as a message of encouragement. God does not choose to work only through those who are particularly well equipped for ministry, but instead chooses to work through the church and equip those of us who are called to faithfulness. You and I, as broken and incapable as we may be, are called to do the very work of God in our daily lives. And the church is called to be a place where we can be set free from what holds us back, and be sent forth as representatives of Christ in this world.

The beauty of All Saints Sunday is that it is not just about those famous saints who have inspired countless believers. It is also about those humble Saints; simple human beings who have shared faith and encouragement with us. May their love and grace continue to bless us. And may we be counted among them!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What do the tears of Jesus say about his relationship with Mary, Martha and Lazarus?

  2. What must it have been like for Mary and Martha to see their brother walk out of the tomb?

  3. How did the people of the early church live into the commandment to unbind and set Lazarus free?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. What holds me back from fully investing myself in doing God’s work in this world?

  2. Who has encouraged me, and helped me take the risk of becoming involved in ministry?

  3. In what new ways is God now calling me to deepen my commitment to ministry?