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All Saints Day, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY: How Christ makes us saints.  The focus on this Festival with these texts is on the way in which God by grace makes us holy, brings us into His Presence (Justification and Sanctification).

Psalm 24
This is a Psalm of David, a liturgy on entering the Sanctuary, probably used in connection with a  procession of the Ark of the Covenant.  (Also see Psalm 15.)  Again we are reminded that it is unlikely that David is the author of the Psalms attributed to him (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p.512).  Many scholars argue that references to David in the Psalms like this one may have been a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p.521).  In that sense this song is about how all the faithful are to enter into God’s Presence with praise and confidence in the righteousness or holiness that God has proclaimed for them.

The Psalm begins with praise that the earth [erets] and all in it are Yahweh’s.  For He founded it on the seas [yam] and established it on the rivers (vv.1-2).  Reference to the waters on which the earth is founded suggest Genesis 1:6-7,9-10.  This was a way for the ancient Hebrews to refer to watery chaos out of which the cosmos was formed.  It could also be a reminder that Evolutionists have noted that life evolved out of water.  Then the Psalmist asks who will ascend the Temple hill and enter (v.3).  Only those with clean hands and pure hearts [iebab].  They will receive Yahweh’s blessing and vindication from the God of their salvation (vv.4-5).  This is the company of those who seek the face of God [anpin] (v.6).  In characteristic fahion of the Hebrew Bible, purity or righteousness seems here to be related to a right relationship with God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol.1, pp.370-371).

Reference to Selah seems to be a liturgical direction indicating that there should be an instrumental interlude at that that point in the Psalm.  Request is then made to enter the Sanctuary, in order that the King of glory might enter [presumably the entrance of The Ark of the Covenant].  This King is said to be Yawheh, the strong and mighty One (vv.7-10).
Application: This text can launch sermons in several directions.  One is to extol Creation, again pointing out the Bible’s compatibility with modern Science and its findings that all human life emerged from water.  Another direction, more readily related to the theme of All Saints Day is to note the joy for the Hebrews in being in God’s  Presence (The Temple) and how our worthiness to be with God is not a matter of making ourselves holy, but that our relationship with Christ makes us holy and worthy (Justification and Sanctification).

Isaiah 25:6-9
We have already noted that this Book is actually the product of two or three distinct literary traditions.  The first 39 chapters are the work of the historical Prophet who proclaimed a message to Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom of Judah from 742 BC to 701 BC, a period during which the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been annexed by the Assyrian Empire.  Chapters 40-66 emerged in a later period, around the time of the fall of Babylon (in 539 BC).   This Lesson seems to be drawn from the observations of the historical Prophet.

After a psalm of thanksgiving, the Lesson is an eschatological discourse following those begun in the previous Chapter.  This is the so-called Isaiah Apocalypse.  It prefigures references to the end of the world in Revelation.  The text notes that on the day promised, a festival is to be made for all people on Mount Zion (the older and higher part of Jerusalem, associated with the site of God’s rule [24:34]) (v.6).  The king usually celebrated his enthronement with feasts (I Kings 1:24-25).  The shroud and sheet to be destroyed by God (v.7) may refer to funeral garments or to the curtains in the Temple Tabernacle separating people from the sanctuary where God was thought to abide.  Death [maveth] is to be swallowed up [bala] forever at this time (v.7b).  This reverses the Canaanite myth that death swallows up everything (5:14).  The Lord is said to wipe away [machah] all tears [dimah], as well as the disgrace of His people/reproach (v.8).  Reference is made to the salvation [yeshuah, also translated as “safety” or “ease”] of this people (v.9).

Application: The text affords opportunity to proclaim hope and the vision of the End Times, how the death is swallowed up (Eschatology).  The destruction of the shroud which limited the laity’s vision of God in the Jerusalem Temple suggests a vision of the Church which entails that the faithful have direct access to God (Priesthood of All Believers).  God wipes away all tears and gives us safety (Justification By Grace, with special attention to how death does not have the final say regarding lost loved ones — the saints).

Revelation 21:1-6a 
The Lesson is taken for an apochryphal book of the last first century expressing hope for salvation after a world-ending new creation.   Although parts of the Book may predate the fall of Jerusalem, it is likely that it achieved its present form during the reign of Emperor Domitian   between 81 and 96 AD.  Christians were being persecuted for refusing to address him as lord and god.  Though the tradition ascribes the authorship to John (1:1,4,9; 22:8) it is by no means clear that the author is one of the Disciples.  However, the Book’s Semitic Greek style does suggest its author was Jewish.  It relies heavily on eschatological images of the Book of Daniel and other Old Testament texts (see 1:7,12,16; cf. Daniel 7:3; 10:5-9).  This text portrays a vision of the new creation (predicted by Isaiah 65:17; 66:22) following the Final Judgment transpiring after the binding of Satan, reign of the martyrs, and a final conflict.  The New Jerusalem coming from heaven is described as a bride [numphe] (v.2).  (Perhaps this is a reference to the Church [Galatians 4:26].)  Hymns of praise paraphrasing Ezekiel 37:27 and Isaiah 25:8; 35:10 follow.  It is declared that God dwells [tabernacles, skene] among men.  The hymn also declares that He will wipe away [exaleipho] every tear, and death [thanatos] will be no more (vv.3-4).  They convey God’s Presence and the overcoming of all evil and mourning that He brings.  All things are said to be made new [kainos] (v.5).  As beginning [arche] and end [telos], God freely gives the water of life [zoe] (v.6).

Application: This Lesson provides preachers with opportunity to announce the Good News that Christ has overcome evil and that in the End all will be made new (Future Eschatology), that what scars us today will soon be gone (Justification By Grace).  This newness is a saintly existence that can orient our lives today (Sanctification).

John 11:32-44
As previously noted John is the last Gospel to be written, probably not until late in the first century in a sophisticated literary style (and so not likely the work of the Apostle John), perhaps written for a Jewish Christian community actually expelled from the synagogue and consequently particularly concerned to assert Jesus’ divinity, that He was Son of God (20:31).  In the first post-Biblical Church History text, Eusebius of Caesarea claimed that John had perceived the external facts made plain in the Gospel and been inspired by friends and the Spirit to compose a spiritual gospel (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol.2/1, p.261).  It is likely that it was written by a disciple of John.  Recently some scholars have suggested an alternative account of the origins of John’s Gospel.  Appealing to the writings of a late first –early second century Bishop Papias, who may have implied that John’s Gospel was the result of eyewitness origins, such scholars have argued that the Book is in fact an authentic historical testimony to Jesus (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, esp. pp.423ff.; cf. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, pp.154-155).

This Lesson is the concluding portion of the story of the raising of Lazarus (the brother of Mary who later anointed Jesus [12:1-8]).  The account is unique to John’s Gospel.  The action begins after Jesus’ arrival in Bethany and learning that Lazarus had died and was buried (vv.17-22).  Jesus had reassured Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha that their brother would rise, that because He is he Resurrection and the Life believers would live (vv.23-26).  Martha confesses faith in Jesus’ Messiahship and summons Mary (vv.27-30).  Mary goes to meet Jesus, and others who had been comforting her go with her (v.31).         

The Lesson begins with Mary lamenting Lazarus’ death when greeting Jesus, expressing confidence that He could have saved her brother (v.32).  Her weeping led Jesus to groan [embrim, deeply moved] in the spirit (vv.33-35).  This leads to gossip among onlookers — some claiming that the tears revealed Jesus’ love for Lazarus and others claiming a miracle worker like Him could have kept Lazarus alive (vv.36-37).  Greatly disturbed, Jesus goes to the cave where Lazarus was buried.  Jesus has the stone before the tomb rolled away, claiming that with faith the glory of God [doxa tou Theou] would be seen (vv.38-41).  After Jesus thanks God for hearing Him, Lazarus rises, still bound in burial clothes, but Jesus has him unbound (vv.41-44). 

Application: This is a Lesson which opens doors for the proclamation of the sainthood of the faithful, but with the awareness that such a status is a sheer, undeserved gift conferred on us like life (the life given anew to Lazarus) is an unearned  gift (Justification By Grace).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen