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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

All Saints Sunday – Year B

Have you heard of Dr. Eben Alexander? I hadn’t until a couple of days ago when I read an article about his new book entitled, Proof of Heaven. Dr. Alexander is a neurosurgeon who currently teaches at the Harvard Medical School. His new book is about an experience he had in 2008 while working at Lynchburg General Hospital in Lynchburg, Virginia.
It seems that one morning in 2008 the doctor woke up with an intense headache only to end up hours later in a comma ravaged by a rapidly spreading bacterial meningitis. Dr. Alexander remained in this coma for seven days during which time he was not expected to survive. The infection was so bad that it completely shut down his brain’s neocortex, making it impossible for his brain to function. He was essentially brain dead, and yet during this coma he experienced a powerful near-death experience. It was an experience so profound that it totally changed his life.
Now, it is important to note that for his entire professional career, prior to this event, Dr. Alexander completely and publically disregarded all accounts of near-death experiences as nothing more than remote chemical reactions inside a dying brain. As a neurosurgeon he knew that the human brain could create all kinds of delusions, especially as it dies. Dr. Alexander had no brain function at all while in his coma and yet he still had a profound experience of a new existence in a strange and beautiful world where he was told over and over again – “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever. You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong.” Dr. Alexander writes: “I know full well how extraordinary, how frankly unbelievable, all this sounds. Had someone—even a doctor— told me a story like this in the old days, I would have been quite certain that they were under the spell of some delusion. But what happened to me was, far from being delusional, as real or more real than any event in my life. That includes my wedding day and the birth of my two sons.” He goes on to say, “… the message that lay at the very heart of my journey (was) that we are loved and accepted unconditionally by a God even more grand and unfathomably glorious than the one I’d learned of as a child in Sunday school.
On this All Saints Sunday when we remember the saints of our church who have died this past year and when we celebrate the fact that they now live with God, I have only one thing to say to the good doctor – We told you so! For more than 2000 years our faith has been proclaiming a truth it took Dr. Alexander a near fatal case of bacterial meningitis to realize. As interesting as the doctor’s book seems to be, it isn’t news. For people of faith it is simply redundant. You see, today is all about celebration. It is a celebration of what we already know. Yes, we have lost some wonderful people this year. Yes, there has been lots of loss and grief around here in recent months. Yes, we have witnessed some of the largest funerals in our parish’s history. But today is a celebration because we proclaim for all to hear the truth that lies at the heart of our faith – nothing can separate us from the love of God – neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation. God loves us too much to let us go, any of us, now or ever more.
In our gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus brings Lazarus back to life. Lazarus is not resurrected, as our Lord was on Easter Sunday, rather he is resuscitated. He is brought back to life only to die again years later as a much older man. But this miracle story goes to show God’s power over death. The unbinding of Lazarus is symbolic of the liberation that awaits us all. It is a foretaste of the final resurrection when we will all rise from the dead never to die again, just as Jesus was. It is a wonderful story of friendship, loss, and the grief that accompanies the death of someone we love. Jesus wept over Lazarus, he wept with his friends Mary and Martha. Jesus’ tears show us that it is impossible to love and not to experience immense pain when lose someone we love. But in this story we also learn that death is not the end. There is indeed something on the other side. It shows us that life is more powerful than death, that love is more powerful than loss.
This morning, at two of our services, we baptize a number of young children. In so doing we are not only making them members of our community but we baptize them into this promise of eternal life. They will be washed in the waters of baptism just as Jesus was. And just as our Lord rose from the dead never to taste death again, by this baptism these children are given the gift of life on the other side of death. They become heirs to the Easter promise, the same promise we have received, the same promise given to: Barbara Guvernator, Alex Call, Gracie Hazelton, Julia Gray Michaux, Owen Morris, Buck Paul, Liza Pope, Spilly Spilman, Preston Stuart, Kay Zambrana, Landon Trigg, Brad Tazewell – and all the other blessed souls who have left this earth these past 12 months. These are the saints not because they lived perfect lives or had perfect faith but because they are heirs of the promise and as such they have gone on into God’s perfect life.
Friends, we have much to celebrate today, even as we mourn the loss of those we love and see no longer. We have much to celebrate because ours is a faith full of hope and promise. Dr. Alexander is right; we are loved and accepted unconditionally by God. Not because we have earned it, but because God simply gives it to us through the loving sacrifice of his son Jesus. We indeed have nothing to fear. On the contrary, we have every reason to rejoice, every reason to say – thank you God for this most amazing gift. Amen.

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