When I arrived at her room, the room was dark, with the curtains drawn closed. We began talking. She said I could stay and visit if I didn’t talk about God. I agreed. I don’t remember what we talked about that day. Over time, she told me her story, and eventually we spoke about God. She told me about the anger she had. She knew she was dying, and she never got to do the things she had hoped to do, like get married and have children. I began to notice during my visits with her over the next weeks, as I learned more about her, she began to open the curtains. She smiled some too. One day she co-opted me into helping her borrow the music therapist’s keyboard so she could practice some songs she knew. Eventually she let me talk with her about God. Much to my great joy, she asked her priest from the local Roman Catholic church to visit her and bring her communion. She became a new person, because she did the hard work of letting herself love and be loved by God who had never left her side. One day after the visit from her priest, I went to the unit and there were balloon animals everywhere, some of which were a bit naughty. When I asked the nurses if a clown convention had come to visit, they laughed and said I should go see Maria. When I did, there she was, making a bunch of balloon dogs and other animals. She was making them for the children’s inpatient units. She was so filled with joy. It wasn’t long after that that she died from her illness. I thank God that she realized how much God loved her before she died. That realization changed her and allowed her to live the last days of her life happy. It was a joy to watch and be a part of.
I never hear the story of Lazarus without thinking of Maria. Her encounter with Jesus at the end of her life changed her, and it changed all of us who witnessed it. She heard Jesus call her name just as Lazarus had. Jesus called her out of a kind of death, a place of literal darkness where she felt separated from God. As she heard Jesus call to her and began to feel how loved she was, her world was no longer dark and no longer felt like death. She was unbound; she was free from all the anger and sadness that she felt; those last weeks she lived her life to the fullest as best she could, loving God, her family, and anyone else who crossed her path.
We celebrate the feast of All Saints today in order that we might remember with joy all of those people who have gone on before us to live with God in the fullness of God’s glory. Certainly we grieve those whom we love and do not see any longer. But today, we also very clearly celebrate the miracle of Easter, that Jesus rose victorious from the dead, and he is very much alive. His Holy Spirit lives in us so that we might continue to do his work of bringing about the kingdom of God here on earth. And, because Jesus rose victorious from the dead, he has destroyed the power of death forever. Death can no longer harm him or any of us; Death can never again have the last word because Jesus has broken open the gates of hell and has risen from the dead that we too, will rise with him. We celebrate that wonderful mystery at each Eucharist that we are present at; and we raise our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to sing the great hymn of our salvation. And today especially, we remember those saints in our lives, those who have gone before us, as they join with us in that hymn of praise.
As Jesus called Lazarus from the grave by name, so shall it be for all of us. Our loving God knows all of our names; our names and the names of our beloved are engraved on Jesus’ very heart. It is Jesus who has given all of us and all whom we remember today the gift of eternal life with God. As Jesus called Lazarus to come out of the grave, as he called my friend Maria into the light of a new life, so shall he call each of us by name… he shall call us and those we love into new life with him forever. The promise of Easter has been fulfilled, and today we remember and we celebrate those whom we love but see no longer who will be with us as we come to the Eucharistic table. Today you and I will have what my dear friend Bill Mahedy would say is a “sip and a taste” of that heavenly banquet where we will one day join our beloved saints in the full glory of God, the blessed Trinity. We will all be together one day in that place where there is no pain, no weeping, no sadness; only the pure joy of living with God forever. When my pal Bill was dying, I told him to save me a seat at the banquet table; he said he would and to yell “yo” when I got there so he would know I was coming. I fully intend to see that curmudgeon again, and take my seat near him. I thank our loving God that it will be so for all of us, that we will see our loved ones again, and we shall hear Jesus call us each by name.