Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 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.” 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. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 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.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 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 11:17-45
Since humanity’s fall in Genesis 3, humankind has experienced the pain of loss. Surely Adam and Eve, mere seconds after their choice to eat the fruit, felt pain of separation no other humans have ever felt. Loved ones, possessions, identity, and many other things fill the list for loss. The pain of loss hurts. Some say keeping busy allays the pain and grief, but I don’t agree. Failure to grapple with grief causes other avenues of expression, much the same as squeezing a balloon causes bulges in different places. I’ve personally found resting in the grief ultimately brings joy.
Within this passage is the death of Lazarus. Grief’s focal points are Mary, Martha, and Jesus. We learn of the pain of Lazarus’ loss through the conversations taking place. Jesus weeps. Other translations describe this reaction driven by frustration or anger, but I can’t imagine Christ shedding tears due to frustration or anger. Brennan Manning, in his book Lion and Lamb, says “We are never more like Jesus than when we are choked with compassion for others.” His compassion, in grief and tears, is profoundly genuine.
Jesus’ weeping was founded in his love for Mary and Martha. He knew their pain because of his depth of love for them. They spoke of the resurrection, but their words didn’t seem heartfelt. While Lazarus was destined to be in his tomb only for a short time, there would be a final resurrection for Lazarus, and all other true believers. Despite this hope, in the depths of their pain, they could only recite the words with little attachment to their heart.
Grief is a gift from God, helping us handle the loss initiated by the fall. It gives us the ability to get through the pain caused by loss of parts of life held dear. When it comes, don’t push it aside! Slow down and step through it slowly, letting the sadness and tears wash over you, placing healing salve on your loss. As believers with hope, and as Jesus, Mary, and Martha knew, the resurrection would be reunion, causing a different sort of mourning (1 Thessalonians 4:13). If you find you don’t have this hope, talk with someone whom you know does, and ask them to share the reason for their hope (1 Peter 3:15). The hope we have in Christ and his resurrection brings joy in the midst of grief!
By Rich Obrecht