Thursday, November 01, 2012

Deadly Honest

Rev. John Beddingfield
The Gospel for All Saints’ Day (John 11:32-44) is one of my favorites. Lazarus lives, but Mary and Martha also come alive in a new way. Their relationship with Jesus reaches out of the scripture and pulls me in, inviting me to approach Christ with boldness and passion. The story suggests to me that, especially in dealing with death, new life begins with my being honest. Even if my prayers are raw, blunt, or rude, their honesty will carry them into the heart of God.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother Lazarus would not have died.” This is Mary’s greeting to Jesus, when he arrives at her house. Martha has already met him on the outskirts of Bethany with the same words—demanding, challenging, and indicting. Their brother has died and they blame Jesus. They hold God accountable and they want answers.

The feasts of All Saints’ and All Souls’ allow us to ask questions about death and to wonder about our loved ones who have died. All Saints’ Day is celebrated on November 1 or a nearby Sunday, and helps us to celebrate the larger-than-life saints and to give thanks for the famous faithful from scripture and tradition. All Souls’ Day, which the Prayer Book entitles the “Commemoration of All Faithful Departed,” is on November 2. All Souls’ is quieter and more intimate. This day especially invites us to remember “our” saints, the people we have known and loved who have died. Frequently, their names are read aloud in the prayers. As we remember them, we wish them well, we ask for their help, and we notice the ways that our relationship with them changes yet continues.

Honesty around death is rare. Our culture is one that in some ways is obsessed with death (in news and popular culture) and yet in other ways does everything it can to bypass any acknowledgment of death. Instead of saying that someone has died, we say they have “passed away” or “left us.” Funerals are either rushed or turned into memorial services that mean too little, too late. Grief, a normal part of life, is often ignored or medicated. All Saints’ and All Souls’ invite our full range of emotions around death: anger, fear, outrage, relief, guilt, fascination, dread, surprise, gratitude, and everything else we might feel or imagine.

At the end of the All Saints’ Gospel, Lazarus is called out of the tomb and Jesus says to the onlookers, “Unbind him, and let him go.” While those words have to do with the burial cloths around Lazarus, they take on additional meaning for us who mourn and remember those who have died, but have risen in Christ.

Are there ways that our prayers might allow us to unbind and free our beloved dead? Are there ways that we might be “unbound” (of guilt or remorse) in order to live more freely in this world? Are there ways we might offer hope to someone who has been too tightly bound by grief or sadness? How might we begin to pray more honestly about death and grief? How do we experience the resurrection of our faithful departed? Share your thoughts, comments, and reflections on Facebook.

John Beddingfield is the rector at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.