Scripture for All Saints day:
Wisdom 3.1-9; Psalm 24.1–6; Revelation 21.1–6a; John 11.32–44 (Jesus raises Lazarus)
What’s the opposite of love? Some would say: hate. Others would say: indifference. Archbishop Michael Curry, of the Episcopal Church in the USA, suggested recently that the opposite of love is not hate, nor even indifference, but self-centredness. He may have a point.
How can we be channels of God’s love to others if we are primarily concerned with our own well-being and interests? Today we celebrate All Saints – those who have shown themselves to be willing to be channels of love – and letting go of self-interest. They are hardly a homogenous group; not only are they varied, but few of them are really perfect. Yet each showed devotion to God and a commitment to the teaching and ministry of Jesus.
One of the core characteristics of Jesus’ life was his love for those he encountered and a willingness to sacrifice himself – truly the opposite of self-centredness. He also showed himself intensely open to solidarity, empathy and compassion for anyone suffering. This is shown in his encounter with Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, after the latter had died, when Jesus “began to weep.”
We might ask why Jesus shed tears if he knew that he was about to restore life to Lazarus. Perhaps the answer is that the tears were not simply the result of the sadness of the occasion, but in solidarity with those who were grieving. Humanity longs for a God who loves us and cares for us. Not only does God weep with us in our suffering, but in Jesus, God is revealed to us in vulnerable, human form, shedding tears for and with those who grieve.
The tears of Jesus are an outward and visible demonstration of the love that God has for us, and a tangible sign of God’s ability to feel sadness and grief in empathy with human suffering. If God is willing to invest such attention and devotion to humanity – to share our suffering, to care with kindness, to show us a better way to live together – if God does all this, then surely we ought to be willing to respond with something rather more generous than self-centredness.
On this day we celebrate the saints who have shown ways to be less than self-centred, who have shown the variety of ways in which the love of God can be channelled through human lives. We celebrate those who in diverse ways have shown how to love neighbour as self, and let go of selfish ways of living. Surely we might aspire, if not to be saints, at least to be creatures of love, who reflect God’s love into the world with open hearts – through and for God, through and for one another – and not primarily for self.