All Souls/All Saints by Matt Haines

Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44

Take me where you want me to go,
Let me meet who you want me to meet,
Tell me what you want me to say and
Keep me out of your way. Amen [1]

This week I was reminded about saintliness while listening to a short NRP Story Corps broadcast about Father Mychal Judge.[2] I have been inspired by Father Mychal over the years and have been following the growing movement to seek his canonization. Mychal was a Roman Catholic Franciscan friar in NYC known for his work in the AA community, the LGBTQ community, the HIV community and NYFD. He was a living -walking alphabet soup for the soul.

He had a great effect on everyone he met and was known to be joyful, loyal, caring, funny and holy. He was widely considered a living saint.  Above all he was compassionate.

Father Mychal served as a chaplain to the NYFD. On September 11, 2001, minutes after planes hit the World Trade Center towers, Mychal ran down the streets of NYC dressed as in the clothes of a priest—wearing a fire helmet on his head. He ran into the second tower to help. He was killed almost immediately; before he could bless any of his beloved fire fighters.

This doesn’t make sense; how could God allow such a tragedy happen to Mychal when those firemen needed him most?  What terrible timing! Just think how if he would have been allowed to live a while longer.  He could have done some real good ministry; he could have saved lives. Why wasn’t he allowed by God to minister to his beloved first responders?

A possible answer was given by his friend Franciscan Father Michael Duffy:

Mychal loved to bless people….his ministry was to bring the firemen to the point of death so they could meet their maker. [but] Mychal Judge couldn’t have ministered to all of them, it was physically impossible. Instead, Mychal Judge was going to be on the other side to greet them instead of sending them.

Could that be it? In a split-second Mychal went from sending people off to heaven to instead receiving them there. It was as if he simply slipped behind a curtain separating earthly life and life eternal.  Well, saints go where they are led, but then often taken end up where they are needed most.  Well, this explanation fits well for Father Mychal whose favorite prayer was:

Take me where you want me to go,
Let me meet who you want me to meet,
Tell me what you want me to say and
Keep me out of your way.[3]

Faithfulness and compassion is the Saint’s calling; the timing is up to God.

But what happens when God’s timing is all wrong–like in the Gospel this morning for example? Mary and Martha had sent word early on that their brother Lazarus was ill. Jesus seemed to dismiss their concern stating: “this illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the son of God may be glorified. He then stayed another two days before even bothering to head to  Bethany.  No fire hat on his head.

Eventually, that illness did lead to death. Jesus told the disciples plainly, “Lazarus is dead. Then he said “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 

Martha ends up confronting Jesus saying “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”

Jesus explained “your brother will rise again” Jesus  then said to her,

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Do you believe this?” 

She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 

Later when Jesus saw Mary and the others weeping, he was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” Jesus then began to weep.

The son of God wept! Even though he knew that the plan was to raise Lazarus just a few minutes later– and even though he understood that his timing had to be this way to proclaim resurrection—he cried. He had complete compassion, he suffered with them!

Jesus then cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Then 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.” Lazareth was unbound from death, the cloth shrouding death from life was removed.

It seems this whole drama could have been avoided. Jesus after all could have intervened on the front end of this. He could have been spared Martha and Mary of their anguish, spared poor Lazareth from death and decay, and spared himself from his own sorrow.

That was not to be. As Jesus showed his faithfulness, God the Father chose the right timing. “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” He had to proclaim the resurrection. Jesus trusted that his father would take care of the timing. The love of God is after all, not subject to either time or space. The first verse of Genesis declared “In the beginning God created.” The first verse of John we learn about Jesus with the words “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”  Just as today we hear from Revelations that “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” Time means nothing to an infinite God. It’s we mortals who are up against the clock.

Maybe the lesson is that that even though we trust in the eternal life and resurrection it is still very painful to lose someone—and that If Jesus weeps, it’s okay that we do too. That Jesus suffers with us, he is compassion.

Maybe it’s just that things happen outside of our control and though it may be out of our control there is room for God’s timing.

Perhaps the lesson is that though earthly death may not be avoidable—but that though Jesus it is ultimately overcome.

We won’t know for certain until we, like Father Mychal’s firefighters, are met on the other side by the cloud of witnesses. Until we are called to “come out” of the tomb and are unbound like Lazarus.

This week’s funeral for General Colin Powell brought this into greater focus for me. All week I was wondering about the great eulogies, the dignitaries, the majestic music, and the pomp of the liturgy.  Instead, it was the first few minutes that captivated and inspired me. I watched the flag draped coffin as it was carried up the steps of Washington National Cathedral with proud military precision. At the door however, the American flag which represented the earthly work, honor, and service of the General and Senior Statesman was replaced with a simple funeral pall–the white cloth placed on the coffin of every Christian hoping for eternal life. The shroud that covers all people.

His body was then brought into the church as the presiding bishop proclaimed the prayer first offered by Jesus to Martha of Bethany:

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord;
he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;
and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

Hearing that prayer will we dare to answer as Martha did? Will we say:

 “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world?” 

If so, we might just meet in that “new heaven” with the faithfully departed, the communion of saints in that place where God “will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”

This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.


AMEN


[1] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fr._Mychal_Judge_FDNY_memorial_-_inscription.jpg

[2] https://www.facebook.com/StoryCorps/videos/father-mychals-blessing-september-11-initiative/563501658182865/

[3] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fr._Mychal_Judge_FDNY_memorial_-_inscription.jpg                                    

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