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In our liturgy today we have commemorated and celebrated the saints in our lives who have gone before us. What I often think about when we celebrate this festival day is not only the remembering we do, but also how no matter how different our experiencing of losing a loved one is, is that most of us have lost someone in our life. It is in that shared experience that we are able to comfort and care for one another. We are able to sympathize and sometimes even empathize with one another. It is a blessing to be able to do that for one another. Just as important we are also able to come together to celebrate, like we do today, not just the life that person lived, but the new life that person has in heaven. That they have joined all the saints to give thanks and praise to God for eternity. It is that hope that lifts us from the sorrow and sadness that death brings.
It is that very idea of heaven that made Joyce come and talk to me one day. She had recently lost a friend and her friend’s family was caught up in the grief that they had over the loss of their mom, sister, etc. Joyce went on to share with me that she didn’t know what to do other than be there for the family becuase none of them had any kind of faith. I told her that was the right thing to do. Joyce then continued on to say that she couldn’t imagine the kind of grief, sorrow and loss of hope they must have right now because they have no faith. They do not believe in God which meant they didn’t believe in heaven which meant that now she was gone that was the end of everything for her. Joyce then reminisced the loss of her own parents and how hard that was, but she had the joy that went along with it because she knew they had been promised a new life in heaven. She lived in faith and hope of that promise made to her parents. She also had not just her family but her faith family to lift her up while she grieved the physical loss of her parents.
This conversation I had with Joyce is, to me, exactly what is happening between Jesus and Mary and Martha and those who were grieving along with them. Now before the part of the story we get today, Jesus is talking with Martha and he tells her that Lazarus will rise again, and she mistakes that for when he rises to his new life in heaven, but she is the only one who indicates she knows there is more to come. She also doesn’t fully understand Jesus intends to raise him in just a little bit. Everyone else seems to be caught up in the grief that this is the end for Lazarus and even though Jesus could have prevented it, he didn’t do anything about it. People are caught up in their grief and I’m sure most of them are thinking about the finality of Lazarus and not about what comes next.
One of the commentaries I read made a connection to 1 Thessalonians 4:13 “13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” They, like Joyce’s friend’s family, were grieving as one’s who had no hope. In their grief they want to blame Jesus for not doing something he had done many times to strangers. Why couldn’t he have done it to someone he knew and loved and who loved him? In fact, Mary and Martha’s letter to Jesus at the beginning of John 11:2-3 lets Jesus know that “Lord, he whom you love is ill”. It specifically says that Jesus loved Lazarus.
No wonder both Mary and Martha separately tell Jesus that if he had been here Lazarus would not have died. And think about it; earlier in this story of Lazarus it also tells us that Jesus stayed two more days before heading to Bethany. Jesus could have been there sooner. If we want to get technical we can see that even if Jesus had left right away he still would have been dead for 2 days, so it’s not entirely fair to put the blame on Jesus. But then again, how often do Jesus and God get blamed for taking someone, when it wasn’t Jesus nor God who did that, but the brokenness of this world? We may not be too different from Mary and Martha and the crowds at times in our lives especially when we are caught up in grief.
All of this leads us to the passage that has moved, challenged, and baffled Christians for generations. It is also the shortest passage in the Bible. John 11:35 “35 Jesus began to weep.” There are so many possible reasons or theories as to why Jesus wept. It could have been for the loss of life, it could be empathy, it could be people’s inability to understand what he was about to do. I’m not here to expound on any of these theories, I’m simply here to tell you exactly what the Bible says happened. Jesus wept.
I’m not trying to escape giving you an answer as to why Jesus wept, but I will tell you what I think is more important than the why. I want to answer the who question. Jesus. Jesus wept. The same Jesus that in John 11:27 Martha calls Jesus Lord and Messiah and the Son of God who is coming into the world. That is who wept. The one we call Messiah and Savior wept. God’s knows the human experience of life and death because God took the form of a human. Jesus wept as both fully God and fully human. God weeps with those who experience loss. I don’t know anything more profound and comforting than that. That is what gives us hope where as Paul and Joyce had witnessed no hope in the lives of others. God cries with us, mourns with us, and KNOWS what it is to feel sorrow at the loss of the life of a loved one.
On this All Saints day may we all focus on the two most important gifts we receive when we grieve the loss of a loved one, God who grieves with us. Who is so moved by our loss that Jesus can’t help but be moved to tears and mourn alongside of us. I said two gifts and though I have been focusing on the loss of Lazarus and our loved ones, we cannot and must not forget the other important gift and promise we receive and that is everlasting life with God in heaven, thanks to the human life that Jesus lived. Lazarus was raised from the dead to show God’s glory, but the greater glory is the life that Lazarus will have when he reaches heaven to join all the saints past, present, and future in the never-ending chorus of praise and thanksgiving to our loving God. Just as all those we are holding dear to us today have joined Lazarus in praise to God who is on our side and by our side in the joys and sorrows of every part of our lives. Amen.
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