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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Hope Beyond the Tomb

2015-11-01 Revelation 21:1-6a and John 11:32-44

Hope Beyond the Tomb

The story of Lazarus is always fun to read at Halloween. He's wrapped in strips of cloth, even his face, like a mummy. Did any of you dress up or dress your kids up as The Mummy this year? Of course not. Toilet paper is expensive. Nobody dresses as The Mummy anymore. It's Princess Elsa. Or Darth Vader. Or a zombie. Lots of zombies. Zombies are lit.

I saw a picture on Facebook of a little girl dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. How wholesomely retro. I looked again. Her eyes were darkened. Fake blood on her cheek. Not Dorothy. Zombie Dorothy. People have always had a fascination with characters who by virus, or radiation accident, or even miracle, come back from the tomb. Like The Walking Dead. And Lazarus.

The reanimation of Lazarus. The resurrection of Christ. The creation of a new heaven and a new earth. They all give us hope that the scariest thing in the world - death - is but hope, hiding in a costume.


I'm really not a fan of dressing up at Halloween. Probably because I wear a spooky black robe every Sunday. It just seems redundant. Think about your costume. Or the costumes you saw on other people. Or the one you put on your pet. We put a costume on our cat. Once. He was very embarrassed and stared at us with murderous eyes.

People dress up at Halloween as what they want to be, or wish they were. Princesses, superheroes. Or - they dress up as the things they're afraid of. Zombies. President Trump. Halloween shows us who we wish we were - and - what we're afraid of becoming. Our heroes and our demons. Our dreams… and our nightmares. Mwa ha ha.

Dreams and nightmares. No surprise the Bible talks about both, a lot. The Book of Revelation that was the First Scripture - Revelation is like a dream. And it has some pretty nightmarish parts, too. You mainly hear Revelation in one of two places: funerals and TV preachers. TV people read it to scare you into sending money. We read it at funerals to console each other. It scares us and it consoles us. Fascinating.

Kelly Clarkson says that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. The Bible puts a slightly different spin on that. Revelation says that what does kill you - that scary, scary stuff - it says what does kill you doesn't make you stronger; it makes you NEW. More precisely, God makes you new, on the other side of awful.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new."

All things new. ALL things new. All earth and heaven, new. All me, new. All you, new. God is making ALL things new, see?

Well, sort of. It's hard to look at because it IS scary, this being made new.

My current favorite preacher, the power-lifting, tattoo-covered Lutheran, Nadia Bolz-Weber, talks about the difference between being made better and being made new in her book, Pastrix.

She writes,

"Smiley TV preachers might tell you that following Jesus is about being good so that God will bless you with cash and prizes, but really it's much more gruesome and meaningful. It's about spiritual physics. Something has to die for something new to live."

She says,

"New doesn't always look perfect. Like the Easter story itself, new is often messy. New looks like recovering alcoholics. New looks like reconciliation between family members who don't actually deserve it. New looks like every time I manage to admit I was wrong and every time I manage to not mention when I'm right. New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn't live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing we never saw coming - never even hoped for - but ends up being what we needed all along.

She says,

"Death and resurrection - the recurring experience of seeing the emptiness, weeping over our inability to fill it or even understand it, and then listening to the sound of God speaking our names and… reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, and our addictions.

"Death and resurrection…" she says, "...is a messy business." (Pastrix, p. xvii, 173)

Messy, scary, and strangely, beautifully consoling. Because it means God won't let even our very ugliest and the walking deadliest get the final word.


If you had to memorize scripture when you were little, you're no doubt familiar with the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, "Jesus wept."

The bystanders say, "See how much he loved Lazarus." They thought he was weeping the way we do, when our hearts are broken by loss. When the saints of our lives are taken by death.

But knowing what we know about what Jesus knew he was going to do by resuscitating Lazarus, for Jesus to be weeping for his loss makes no sense. Jesus knew he was to bring Lazarus back to life. So why is Jesus weeping?

I could be wrong, but I think Jesus is weeping not for Lazarus, but for all of us. I think Jesus wept because he knows all of us have to face the dark valley of the shadow of death. I think he wept because he knows this death and resurrection is a messy business. It's damned scary. Terrifying. Heart-breaking.

The day after we put on costumes of who we'd like to be, or who we wish we'd become… the day after we dress up and mock the things that scare us… the day after Halloween - All Hallows' Eve - is today: All Saints' Day.

All Saints' Day is the day when our masks are set aside. It's the day we look in the mirror at who we really are. And that can be scary, too. All Saints' Day is the day we remember ALL the saints and sinners whose masks have been removed, forever, by the loving hand of the God who makes us new. Not better. New.

Between All Hallows' Eve and All Saints' Day, there is the dark of night. But the night doesn't last forever. The new morning comes. The new day breaks through the cloak.

The blessing of All Saints' Day is that whatever dreams inspire you, whatever nightmares terrorize you, the new day does come. So there's hope. There's hope beneath the costume. There's hope beyond the tomb.