November 4, 2018 All Saints Day
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .
This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”
This quote from Thomas Merton comes from his book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. It provides a vision of what we want to see in a community. The realization of everyone living together as one. In Jesus Christ, we are called to live together in community with our brother and sisters, loving and supporting the other.
We can come to the realization that Thomas Merton does, however, we first encounter brokenness and despair. For the people of Bethany, the people are mourning the loss of Lazarus. Mary and Martha are at a loss because they were hoping that Jesus may come to help heal their brother the same way that he has healed many others throughout the countryside. It is Mary that we hear say to Jesus, “If only you were here!” Mary knows Jesus and the power and authority to heal and if he would have been present at the time her brother died, he would still be alive. In the brokenness that the community of Bethany has encountered, doubt begins to set in and people begin to wonder if Jesus truly is able to do the things he has promised. In a way, they have excluded Jesus from their community and set their sites on the truth that Lazarus is dead.
It is easy for us to exclude people from community. We don’t invite them in. We ignore them. Amid this, we experience brokenness. At times it appears our communities are torn apart. It can happen at any time. It can happen during natural disasters, like hurricane Michael in Florida. It can happen in mass shootings like at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh a little over a week ago. We are bombarded with reminders that heaven has not came to earth yet and that our world is still full of evil. From the outside, it appears that communities are easily shattered.
Despite the evil that pervades us, communities are present to raise up those that need a boost. We may quickly hear of the death and destruction, but the community that is quite often raised up from it is even greater. Communities are made stronger as they struggle together and look for a sense of belonging, safety, companionship, and relationship. New communities, or at least new realizations of communities, have arose time and time again out of the death and destruction that we quite often hear of through the news. The communities that come through these struggles are transformed into a new thing as they grow and are challenged. They get better together.
While Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, the community rejoices. It is a sign of God’s saving grace that has come to reside in their community. It is a chance to witness Jesus and the healing he is bringing to the world. Jesus does not unbind Lazarus, he calls the community to work together to unbind him. It is God coming to live among mortals as we read in Revelation.
The church is a place of community if we are open with one another and support one another in our struggles and temptations. We can be present for one another when we do not know where else to turn. We can bring love and support in the name of Jesus Christ.
If we are honestly following the word of God, we are brought to a sense of community as we learn to love our sisters and brothers. The city of Pittsburgh has come together in the aftermath of the shooting last weekend at Tree of Life and the local Islamic center had raised over $70,000 in the first few days following the tragedy. The communities in Florida devastated by Hurricane Michael are banding together to support one another along with disaster relief organizations throughout the country.
In Richmond, we practice living in community by supporting MCREST, and working with our neighbors from other churches. Community comes in many forms. Thomas Merton’s vision of seeing each other as God sees us, is what living into community is all about. As he says, if we did see everyone this way, “There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.”
It is in the promise of the Resurrection, that Jesus welcomes us to a new life. A life surrounded by all the saints that have gone before us. A life that is brimming over with the goodness of God and we are embraced for eternity.
Let us pray. God, you draw us in to community to be with one another so that we may see Christ in our sisters and brothers. May you continue to be present with us in our brokenness and provide a peace that comes by gathering together. Amen.