Hope from Saints

John Horgan

John Horgan

The author and science journalist, John Horgan was featured on a recent episode of the radio show “Radiolab.” He was walking the streets of Hoboken, New Jersey in order to ask people one simple survey question… “Will humans ever stop fighting war once and for all?” 

 

You can listen to this Radiolab podcast directly here:

This is apparently one of his favorite questions, and one he has been asking people to answer since 2003 when he asked it for the first time. A friend had invited him to speak at a church just a few days after the US’ first invasion of Iraq. 

He said the mood of the hall where he was speaking was somber, and there was just a heavy weight present so he felt compelled to help people realize that though we were heading to war, we’ve got to believe that peace was still possible…

Image by David Faulkner

Image by David Faulkner

So, hoping to illustrate the fact that peace is still possible, he asked the 60 or so people there to answer a question… raise you hand if you believe humans will ever stop fighting war once and for all. 

And only one or two of the 60 the people at the church raised their hand. This needless to say left John discouraged. How is it that in a church, a place where people believe Christ reconciled all people to God and to each other, Where we believe that God’s kingdom of peace is still breaking in, this vision of the lion lying down with the lamb, of swords being beaten into plowshares. 

How is it that in a place where people sing “I’m going to lay down my burdens, down by the riverside and I’m not gonna study war no more” How is it there that only 1 person in sixty believes war will end?  

So John was convicted. As any good journalist does, He started researching the history of this question, trying to figure out if anyone had asked it scientifically before, and in the meantime he continued to bring it up as a survey to people he’d meet.

In his research John learned that he was not the first person to ask this question. He found some survey’s that asked this back in the 80’s and learned that back then People were a whole lot more optimistic. 

Back in the 80s, 2 out of every 3 people thought peace was possible.

But since then, that number has plummeted until the point that if I were to ask all of you to raise your hands right now, or if I were to ask this question to random people on the streets of Granville we’d find that number of people who believe that humans will stop fighting war once and far all is only one person in every ten! 

We are a culture that is lacking in hope for our future. We feel like human nature is just a certain way and we are doubtful that we will ever change. And just when we feel like there are signs of hope in one part of the world, we are so connected around our world that in an instant we learn of some new place where people experiencing another tragedy of violence, war, and corruption.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Raising of Lazarus after Rembrandt

In many ways I think we are at a time where we feel like the people in John’s gospel. We may feel Mary, rushing to Jesus. Crying out to him on behalf of our beloved brother. Falling down at his feet in desperation and wishing he had just come sooner to do something about it! 

Or like the people who followed Mary to Jesus, who are so distraught that they want to call Jesus out and cast blame, They say: Jesus you were able to heal a blind man, how then weren’t you able to cure Lazarus and keep him from dying. 

Or like Martha… Who tries to avoid having the crowd face the gruesome realities of death, by keeping the stone on her dead brother’s tomb so they won’t have to bear the smell that confirms how far gone he is. 

We live in a time that is full of skepticism, fear, and stress. We feel as though our world, and humanity as a whole is lost for good and there is nothing! We cry out, we cast blame, we may even try to avoid it … and just like the people in this story we completely over look what Jesus is already doing in our midst.

When Mary brings the news to Jesus about Lazarus, and collapses in grief… Jesus weeps.

When the people who are with Mary are questioning why he didn’t do something about it ...Jesus is so troubled by this loss that he is already setting off to go to the tomb.

And when the crowd gathers around Jesus at the tomb in disbelief that Jesus can do anything, believing Lazarus is just too far gone …Jesus helps everyone there believe and see God’s glory even in the depths of a four day old tomb, Jesus resurrects Lazarus.

Jesus Mafa, Jesus Raises Lazarus to Life, Camaroon, 1973

As a pastor, I have the privilege of being with people as they walk through this process with Christ.  We gather to weep together when our loved ones die, and we remember that Christ weeps with us. 

We are in disbelief, and denial about it, we feel guilt and even cast blame on ourselves and others and then we start to remember to remember how Christ was present throughout our loved one’s life. We begin to see how Christ was already active.

And then somehow, in the midst of the depths of grief, Christ shows up and re-establishes our loved ones in our hearts. We start to look past the realities of death and remember the people we’ve lost as they were when they were most alive. 

We gather around tables and share story after story until its almost as if the veil of death is lifted and they are still present with us. 

And then we lift them up in worship. We remember how their life was a witness to Christ’s Resurrection. How from beginning to end they were held in God’s loving arms. And somewhere in that process of remembering Christ starts the work resurrects of them.

Ira Thomas, Communion of Saints

Friends, All Saints day is not a day where we dwell in the pains and sorrows of our world, its not a day where we become overburdened in the stories of grief and loss in death, it is a day where we are refocused on the hope we all have in Christ’s resurrection. 

It’s a day that Christ calls us to roll back the stone of our world, to take off the covering of our pain, our grief, and our loss so that we can see that there is no place where God’s glory is absent. 

We do this by remembering the saints of our life. We turn to their stories, and lift up the memories of all of the saints we’ve known in our lives, and even those we haven’t known who have gone before us. 

We meet them here at this table and here they are restored to full life, just as we are.

We remember how they lived, 
how they found hope, 
how they shared grace with others, 
and how they passed it on to us.

And somewhere along the way, in these memories or at this table… we find hope that God’s kingdom is not some far off hope, but something that is coming closer to us every day. 

In their stories we begin to see potential in our own lives. We see how God is using us to contribute to his story, we see how God is using us to be witnesses to the resurrection in our own day to day living, and we see how we might have a part in God’s kingdom breaking into our world.

Kathleen Norris

Kathleen Norris

In her book The Cloister Walk, The american poet Kathleen Norris tells of her visits to a Benedictine monastery where she would sometimes go for spiritual retreats. 

She had been taking part in a special program for laypeople when the monk who was their leader said to her, “Kathleen, It’s time for you to meet the rest of the community.” 

She was surprised when he took her not to a dormitory, nor the kitchen, not even to the chapel, but to the cemetery. 

They walked by the graves, and as they walked the old monk told her stories about each of the deceased. He had lived at the monastery for more than sixty years, and he knew almost every one of them.

Norris goes on to describe something that monks don’t talk about with most people, because most folks find it too morbid. It’s the fact that when monks commit to living cloistered in a monastery, this commitment includes knowing that your life will end in that place. As they were leaving the cemetery her leader went on to describe it as a strength of his lifestyle: “my friends are there, my mentors, and guides in the religious life, and one day I’ll join them”

Jedburgh Abbey Cemetary, Scotland, Photo by Brian Grzlewski

Jedburgh Abbey Cemetary, Scotland, Photo by Brian Grzlewski

We are a resurrection people. We are called to have defiant hope, even in the face of a world that seems to have lost hope. Even in the face of our own mortality we are called to see God’s deeper meaning, and new hope in Christ. 

And when we struggle to see, when life has got us down, and our pain and grief brings us to the point of collapsing in tears on Jesus’ feet, we are called to lean on this community of saints. Those present both those here and now and throughout time and space. We are called to gather around tables, to share stories and memories, and somehow through each other we remember that Christ is still resurrecting the world.

May you find your hope restored, 
when you come and take your seat amid all the saints, at Christ’s table.

Amen.