From The Pastor At St. Paul's UCC, Freeburg, IL

This Sunday: Totenfest

This coming Sunday, November 4, we’re celebrating Totenfest. Unless you have a German and/or Lutheran background this may be an unfamiliar event on the liturgical calendar. Here’s a brief description from St. John’s UCC in San Francisco:

Totenfest is a German word that means “Feast of the Dead” or “Festival for the Dead.” It was established in 1816 by Prussian Emperor Fredrick WilliamIII as a day to remember that nation’s soldiers who had died in the recently concluded Prussian War. Obviously it became an important observance in the Evangelical Church in Prussia (established by the same emperor in 1817) as a day to remember not only the war dead, but also church members who had died in the previous year.  It was observed on the last Sunday of the church year, right before Advent began. This was also the time of clearing garden sand fields of the summer’s growth in preparation for winter. To this day,Totenfest in parts of Germany is the day families visit the graves of loved onesto clean off the summer flowers and cover the graves with evergreen boughs for the winter..

As in past years we’ll be remembering those who have died since our last Totenfest. Sherry Walter has graciously provided Christmas ornaments for families of the deceased. The Scripture reading will be from the gospel of John, the familiar passage wherein Jesus comes to comfort Mary and Martha, and to raise their brother Lazarus from the dead:

Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35  Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44  The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  John 11:32-44 (ESV)
Now there’s lots to consider in this passage, and I want to post more here after I’ve had a little more time to ponder. But here’s something I noticed that’s worth meditating on: in verse 34 He asks where they have laid the dead Lazarus. Why? Did he not know? He knew days beforehand that Lazarus was going to die, knew that He was going to raise him from death – but he didn’t know where Lazarus was laid? Does God need us to fill in the details of His omniscience? Or….is there something therapeutic, something good for us, about showing Jesus our dead, our wounds?

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