Engaging the Word: Readings for 11/1/15 (All Saints’ Day)

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By Barbara Klugh 

Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, the prophet Isaiah declares the coming conquest of death, John foresees a new heaven and a new earth, and Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

Isaiah, Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo, 1509. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Isaiah, Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo, 1509. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Isaiah 25:6-9: The first of the five Major Prophets, Isaiah began prophesying to the southern kingdom of Judah in 740 BC. His ministry lasted about half a century during a very difficult period for Israel.  The first half of Isaiah primarily deals with the Lord’s judgment of his people, of the nations of the world, and of the forces of chaos. Chapters 24 to 27 are a prophecy about the end-times when we see the destruction of death itself.

This week’s reading is perfect for All Saints’ Day and is frequently read at funerals.

Our reading is a description of the celestial banquet “for all peoples” hosted by the Lord on Mount Zion. One day God will swallow up death, “the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.” God’s kingdom will be established, and in eternal life he will “wipe away the tears from all faces,” and will restore their honor. In the age to come, we will “be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Psalm 24: This week’s psalm is based on a Canaanite myth which tells of the divine conquest of the forces of chaos. The psalmist transformed it into a hymn of praise to God, our creator and ruler over all creation. It includes an entrance liturgy for the people, and an entrance liturgy for the Lord’s coming to his temple as king.

Attributed to David,  it may have been written for the great occasion when the Ark was carried into Jerusalem. David describes the glorious King who dwells in his temple. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein….The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.”

The New Jerusalem, 14th century tapestry. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The New Jerusalem, 14th century tapestry. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Revelation 21:1-6a: In our reading from Revelation, we learn of John’s vision for the end-times. “The sea was no more,” meaning the forces of chaos—sin, pain, suffering, evil, and death—have been destroyed. John sees a new heaven and a new earth—“the new Jerusalem,” a holy city of divine origin, as beautiful and as lovely as a bride.

There is no longer any need of a temple for God himself will live among mortals, and “will wipe every tear from their eyes.” And God says, “See, I am making all things new,” and affirms “It is done!”

The Raising of Lazarus by Duccio (1260-1318). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Raising of Lazarus by Duccio (1260-1318). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

John 11:32-44: Recorded only in the Gospel of John, this week’s reading is the story of the raising of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha. It’s the final and greatest sign in John’s Gospel.

Earlier, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was ill and asked him to come. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus has been dead for four days. As our passage begins, Mary kneels at the feet of Jesus and says that if Jesus had arrived sooner, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. When Jesus saw Mary and the other mourners weeping, “Jesus began to weep.”

They came to the tomb, and Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” When they took it away, Jesus looked upward and said, Father, I thank you for having heard me. 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.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 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.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

I’m sure this story has many dimensions of  meaning. A few years ago, we discussed this story in a Bible study group. One interpretation our group found satisfying  is the idea that we, or someone we love, may be spiritually dead and bound by addiction, anger, depression, or some other affliction. Like Lazarus, we cannot unbind ourselves. We need our spiritual community to call us out of our isolation, love us, and unbind us. This is one way we, as the body of Christ, take care of each other.

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