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Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44
by Rev. Rick Thompson

     In 1844, Mayor Philip Hone of New York City, used this phrase: “Oh, for the good old days for the first time.”[i]

     Let me say that again: “Oh, for the good old days for the first time.”

     There’s some truth in that, isn’t there?  We long for better times, don’t we?  And we think that going back to the past will be our best hope, so we pine for “the good old days”.  But, like that New York mayor generations ago, we also are aware that “the good old days” truly belong to the future.  And so, we know, we need to keep moving forward, to face the future with hope.

     So give us those good old days—for the first time!

     Because hasn’t the past—like the present—always left us longing for more?  Aren’t we, in this life, always lamenting the way things are and longing for newness?

     It hasn’t really changed much, has it?  It was true in biblical times, and it’s true today: the world seems old and tired and worn out.  And we wish it would change for the better.

     Do I have to elaborate?  I could talk about hunger in the world, and remind you of the haunting photos we see of starving children, with their stomachs distended, on the brink of death.  I could talk about disease, and mention the millions suffering or dead from AIDS—just to name one disease—and the millions more, especially the children, who are at risk as a result.  We could talk about violence and war, and make note of the fact that almost as many Americans have been killed in Afghanistan as the number killed on September 11, 2001—and we can add to that the death and destruction caused as war grinds on and on.

     And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  There’s more, isn’t there—chronic hostility between Israel and its neighbors, Iran rattling nuclear sabers, global warming, and on and on it goes.

     The world is old and tired.  Old, tired, and haunted by death.  Threatened by the “No!” which death speaks loudly and clearly over us, over the world.  Tormented by the fear that nothing will ever change for the better—and then we will die.

     “Oh, for the good old days—for the first time!”

     John, the visionary who left us the book of Revelation, speaks God’s response to that ancient—and not-so-ancient—longing.


            “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.”


     When God’s people are desperate for hope, desperate for a better world, what does God do?  God makes a promise!  In fact, God makes several promises! 

     What is God going to do? 

     God is going to dwell with us. God is going to take away all the pain and suffering of creation.  No more tears.  No more pain.  No more sorrow.  And no more death.

     Doesn’t that sound wonderful?!

     And the best thing is, it’s true!  God is going to make all things new!

     Tears and sorrow—they’ll be a thing of the past.  Death—it will be gone.  All those things that haunt us, all those things that suck the life out of us and the world—hunger, disease, war and violence—they will be gone!  GONE FOREVER!!  And, instead, all things—ALL THINGS—will be made new!

     And isn’t that precisely what God does in Christ?  Isn’t that what God will do fully when we depart this life and go to be with God forever?

     Yes, that’s exactly what God has done and exactly what God will do! 

     We are assured of that by God’s promises, by the presence of Christ, and by the action of Christ reported in today’s Gospel reading.  We may remember the story of Lazarus—dear friend of Jesus, who became sick and died.  His sisters—Mary and Martha, also friends of Jesus—were grief-stricken.  They brought their lament, their sorrow, their grief to Jesus.  And what did Jesus do?  Well, wonder of wonders, Jesus went to the place of death, went to the tomb of Lazarus, and raised Lazarus up from death!  JESUS MADE LAZARUS NEW!

     That’s a glimpse.  That’s a sign—a sign of the power of God, a sign of God’s intentions for us and for the world.  And what does God intend?  God intends to make all things new!!

    I like the sound of that promise.  I like that promise a lot!  No more of all that stuff that makes life seem pointless, makes the world seem old and weary.  No more death!  Yes, I like that a lot!

     But it’s so hard to believe it, isn’t it?  It’s so hard to keep the faith.

     That’s why I need this day.  That’s why I need All Saints’ Day.  I need to remember.  I need to remember those who have gone before me in faith.  I need to remember and give thanks for those who are part of my pilgrimage now—you, and rest of the body of Christ in the world.  I need to remember those who will follow, and keep faith and hope in Christ alive, and live joyfully in the generations to come.

     And, most of all, I need to remember Jesus.  I need to remember the one who promises to meet me and all of God’s people at his table for a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

     I need to remember Jesus.  And it’s the saints of God who help me remember—the ones who, in the words of an un-named Swedish bishop, “make it easier for us to believe in God.”

     Today we surround the Lord’s table with candles.  These candles, when lit, remind us of the saints—the ones who have gone before us, and the ones who are newer to our community of faith.  In Christ, they are with us at the table—even if we are separated from them by death.  For death is not a barrier for Christ, is it!  He has made that abundantly clear in raising Lazarus from the dead, and in his own resurrection to glory!

     No, death is not a barrier for Christ—in him, we are all held together, mysteriously, in the promise that, through him, God makes all things news.

     That’s why I need to remember the saints:

     I need to remember saints like my Grandpa, who taught me to love the Bible—and God whom I know through the Bible.  Has there been any one like that in your life?

     I need to remember saints like St. Lawrence, one of the early martyrs of the church, who gave his life for Christ.  A greedy Roman official heard about the treasures of the church, wealth he thought was to be found in the church’s Communion vessels and furnishings.  The official gave Lawrence three days to gather the church’s treasures and, at the appointed hour, Lawrence appeared in the company of hundreds of Rome’s sick, and old, and infirm, and poor.  Angered, the official demanded, “Bring me the treasures of the church!”  Calmly, Lawrence replied, “These are the treasures of the church!”  Sentenced to death for his insolence—death by roasting over an open fire—the legend is that Lawrence urged his executioners, “You can turn me over now; I’m done on this side!”

     Why would they do that—those saints—love God and even, in some cases, put their very lives at risk? 

     Well, I have a hunch.  I have a hunch they knew the power and love of Jesus.  I have a hunch they trusted Jesus.  I have a hunch they had heard his promise.  And I have a hunch they believed it: “I will make all things new!  Death, mourning, crying, pain—they shall be no more!”

      A Swedish bishop once insisted, “We need the saints.  The saints make it easier for us to believe in God.” [ii]

     That bishop was right!  We do need the saints, and we do need All Saints’ Day.  Why?  Because the saints make it easier for us to believe in God.

     Today, the saints want us to know that we can take God at God’s Word.  They even join us at the Lord’s table to remind us of God’s promises.  And what do they want us to know?

      That God means what God says.  That, even though the world seems old and weary, and sin and death weigh heavily upon us, God can be trusted.

     God promises us, “I will make all things new!”

     And yes, my friends, when God makes that promise--God can be trusted!



[i] Source unknown

[ii] Source unknown