211107 Advent 1-All Saints
November 7, 2021
Sermon: “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.”
Rev. Kristian Wold
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but I feel that prayer acutely now, as November begins, the days get darker (in spite of the time change), the cold closes in, the world seems to divide into warring factions of people talking past each other, and the need to do something about climate change becomes ever more urgent. I actually long for the day of graceful judgement, when Jesus will come to renew creation and inaugurate his reign of peace. On that day I look to see a world of clear waters, clean air, and abundant wildlife. And I will finally know a society where people live in mutual harmony and gracious hospitality.
O that my words [of longing and hope] were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!
Job wanted his protests of innocence to be heard by God. He wanted there to be something permanent and indelible about his heart’s cry. With a similar power and urgency and desire to be heard, I feel this longing for the world to be right and whole. So I cry out, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.”
Maybe you do, too.
Maranatha! is the cry of the saints and martyrs and witnesses whom we commemorate today. There are the famous ones, like Francis and Clare of Assisi, Patrick of Ireland, Julian of Norwich, Anthony of Egypt, Hildegard of Bingen, and Martin of Tours. These are some of the “official” saints with their names in our worship book. And there are many more “unofficial” saints commemorated by many: Theressa of Calcutta, Florence Nightingale, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther—just to name a few. More numerous still, and closer to us by far, are the unheralded and ordinary saints that we were close to, who were models for us in some way of the godly life, or manifestations of the love of God—the ones we call to mind today, for whom we will light candles of remembrance. I’m remembering my uncle David most powerfully this year; I know you carry in your hearts your own beloved dead.
They are with the Lord, and what they hold in common with the saints and witnesses and martyrs of every age is that they worked in some way, great or small, to renew the world and manifest Jesus’ reign of justice and peace, joy and freedom and love. Their work was incomplete, partial, deeply flawed in many cases, and yet it is honoured by God and embraced by Christ. So they, like us, the living, cry out for the fullness of God’s reign to be realized, for creation to be fully and finally renewed, and for the resurrection to be complete.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.
Maranatha is both a prayer and a confession, one of the very earliest prayers and confessions of the followers of Jesus’ Way. It’s a word (or pair of words, actually) in Aramaic, the language of Jesus himself, that can be translated in two ways: as a prayer of petition (“Come, Lord”), or as a confession (“The Lord has come”). In either mode it is a word for this day of commemoration of All Saints, on which we also begin our season of Advent.
As the first Sunday of Advent, this is the first Sunday of a new liturgical year, and when better to confess that the “Lord has come”? In Christ the Lord of all creation became incarnate, and today we begin our season of anticipation of that blessed nativity. But Advent is so much more than a time of preparation for Christmas. It is a season of celebration in its own right, for as the new year starts we confess that Christ has come as the first fruits of the resurrection. Today we confess in that other ancient acclamation, that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. Maranatha - the Lord has come already, and begun the work of renewing creation. He is the very first fruit and he has called and chosen each and every one of the saints who has come after—right down to you and I—to be fruits of that work also. As Paul said to the Thessalonians:
But we always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation… For this purpose he called you… so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Did you catch that? You are the first fruits of salvation, which means healing and wholeness. You are living in the resurrection. You are already enjoying the resurrection life, just as the saints who have gone before have, and are. The Lord has come—into your hearts and lives already. That means you have this great joy and responsibility to live your life in such a way as it brings healing to this world.
I suggest that you (and I) live this day and this season with that ancient prayer on our lips:
Maranatha! Lord, you have come! Thank you! Empower me to live like you, bringing love and healing and justice and mercy to your world in need. Lord, you have come! And so help me to see the fruit of your renewing work in the people I meet, and the world I encounter. But also, Lord, I can see that the work of healing and restoration of the world is too big for me alone. Thank you for placing me in a community of people—the saints around me today and the saints who have gone before—to share the work and support me when I fall. I can also see, Lord, that the work of healing is not complete: self-interest prevails while the world turns barren, fear and anger take over our social life, bitterness and resentment hide in hearts and destroy relationships. The world is still broken. And so Maranatha! Come soon, Lord Jesus! Come soon and complete your work. For I know, like Job, that you live as Redeemer and Healer of all, and I know that I shall one day see your work fulfilled.