The Feast of All Saints
November 6-7, 2010
Text: John 5:24-29
Dear Friends in Christ,
You children are loud enough to wake the dead! Did your mother ever scold you with that line? Did you ever scold your children with that line? My parents did. It is of course a false statement. The dead don’t hear. They are dead. Oh, perhaps with someone recently dead, the eardrum might still vibrate from various sounds, but there is no working nerves to transmit the signal and no brain to interpret the sound. They are dead. The remains are simply inanimate matter. The phrase itself hearkens back to superstitions that the living could disturb the spirits of the dead. Thus you walk quietly and reverently through cemeteries. This does not mean we should treat cemeteries with contempt, but rather that we should show proper respect for the memory, without bowing to superstition. Indeed a Christian cemetery, the old church yard, is intended to be a place of prayer. For the markers in such a place are a catalogue of the saints in heaven. This is why many cemeteries have strict rules about who can be buried there. You cannot bury the rank unbeliever among the faithful. And having grown up in a church that had a cemetery out back, this matter was the subject of more than one tense voters’ meeting.
Quiet, you’ll wake the dead. We can’t wake the dead. This is one of the absurdities of the WWJD bracelets. What would Jesus do if He encountered a funeral? He raise the dead person to life. What would Jesus do if a close friend died? He’d raise the dead person to life. Now you go and do likewise. It is what Jesus would do! But of course Jesus is God. We are not God. He can do things we cannot.
One wonders if Mary every ever said to Jesus; Quiet, you’ll wake the dead. Jesus literally does wake the dead with His words. I think of the Aramaic phrase Talitha Kum - little girl arise. But is was not just one little girl. Christ makes it clear in our text that all the dead hear His voice. All come to life. Death is not the end. For Christ calls all from the grave. An admiral in the navy ordered that when he died, his body was to shot out of a torpedo tub over the deepest part of the ocean, so that God could not find him to raise him for the judgement. Christ who created the depths of the oceans, knows exactly where he is. Some want to be cremated and their ashes scattered so that God cannot raise them again. But even this will not prevent God from raising them.
Our text is really sort of a double entendre. The dead will hear. Yes, indeed, the dead will hear. And not only those dead in the graves, but the dead who are still walking around on the earth. The dead who are alive also will hear the voice of Christ. Huh? How can the dead still be walking around? Christ talking about the spiritually dead - the unbelievers, those still trapped in their sins. Christ is talking about two different resurrections in our text. He is talking about calling people to faith in Him, and calling people from their graves. So Christ is speaking both ways in this text.
Why is it important that the spiritually dead hear the voice of Christ? First, we must say that every human being is born spiritually dead. We are all born dead in our trespasses and sins. Physical death is just the final consequence of spiritual death. The dead are dead. They cannot help themselves. They cannot make themselves alive. That which is not living cannot become living. Even Mary Shelly’s monster required Dr. Frankenstein to make it alive. See, even in the world of fiction it is understood that the dead do not make themselves alive. But Christ calls to us in the waters of Baptism and makes us alive. He raises us to life with him. Baptism is our resurrection from the dead. Thus we say, in the normal course of events, baptism is required for salvation. The dead cannot be saved. While this is not without exception, those are in God’s hands and not in ours.
Christ then moves from raising the spiritually dead to raising the physically dead. All the dead come forth for the judgement. Christ will then judge them. Our text says that we will be judged according to the good or evil we have done. But this must be understood in the light of the cross. Everything we do is sin. Our very best works are stills sins. We don’t have a pure heart. We do them for the wrong reason or for mixed reasons. Many times we ourselves don’t understand our own motivations. We don’t see that we are doing good with evil intent. This is because we have lied to ourselves. I’m no different than you in this. We have a limitless capacity to justify our own actions. So if we are judged purely and only by what we have done by our own power, we will be condemned. But you see, Christ looks at the actions of believers through the cross. The sin that we commit and mingle in with the good is removed. Christ then only sees the good. And thus, in Christ, we are judged righteous and enter the eternal wedding feast of heaven.
Why are we talking about Christ raising the dead today? We are celebrating the feasts of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. We are celebrating that the dead in Christ live. We are celebrating that we gather with them in the Divine Service around the throne of Christ. We are celebrating that we remain in communion with them.
In the Orthodox Church, there are many icons. Orthodox Christians will come in come into the building and kiss each of the icons of the saints. Why? Because they understand that those saints are presents there with them. They are greeting the saints as they would greet their brothers and sisters in Christ who are still upon the earth. This practice is very commendable on one level and fraught with dangers on the other. So no, I don’t suggest we copy it. But it is a good concept to understand. The saints of heaven are here. My father Marvin, by brothers Danny, and Mark, my sister Sandy, my father-in-law John, my mother-in-law Peggy, are all here. Your friends, siblings, spouses, children, are all here. All who died in the faith are here right now. When we take the body and blood of Christ, they are at the table with us. At no time are we closer to our departed loved ones than when we take the Lord’s Supper.
Quite, you’ll wake the dead! We’re glad Christ didn’t listen to that admonition. For He calls the dead to life. He called us to life. That is our hope.