jesus wept

A couple summers I worked as a chaplain at a hospital in Arcadia, CA near Los Angeles. I am going to share with you a few stories from that experience. The first story is a bit comical. This hospital had a number of chaplains. One morning I ran into Deacon Mike, the Catholic chaplain in the hospital and I asked him – so Deacon Mike, how are the catholic patients today? Maybe it had been a tough day or maybe he just had a morbid sense of humor, but he said: “Oh, they’re all going to die,” “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually they’ll all die, just like you and I.” I suppose it is natural for this type of morbid humor to develop in a hospital – a place where virtually everyone is ill or injured. Some are getting better, and some are getting worse. As a hospital chaplain, I got to talk to many patients about how their time in the hospital was affecting their faith and I noticed that when people of faith get ill and wind up in the hospital, many of them wonder – “God, why did you let this happen?” And if they get well, they tend to be grateful to God for saving them. But they don’t all get well. And when life ends, loved ones, as they grieve, face this question: God, where were you? Mary and Martha wrestled with this same question: Jesus, where were you? John 11...
1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick." 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." 8 "But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?" 9 Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world's light. 10 It is when people walk at night that they stumble, for they have no light." 11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up." 12 His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." 16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." 17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." 23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 27 "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." 28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you." 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 "Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then 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 have kept this man from dying?" 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." 40 Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."
Before Lazarus died, he was ill. And Jesus heard reports of his illness, but he didn’t rush to heal him. He waited 2 days before coming to visit. And so when Jesus arrives too late both Mary and Martha say with anger and disappointment “If you had been here, my brother would not have died?” “If you had been here” – Where were you! How could you let this happen? When Mary comes to Jesus, she falls at his feet and weeps saying “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Interjection: I expect that many of you know the pain of Mary’s grief. I expect that many of you have lost siblings. Many of you have lost friends. Some of you have lost spouses. I expect that many of you have wept, and called out to God, “Where were you!? Why weren’t you here to save this persons life? Where were you? When Mary weeps at Jesus’ feet, the text says that he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” – Jesus was heart broken – he was in emotional agony -- and he wept. I remember as a child in church having a Sunday school teacher tell the class that if anyone could memorize 3 verses in the bible by next week, we would get a candy. Being the clever little kid that I was, I picked as one of my three verses John 11:35 “Jesus wept” because it is the shortest verse in the Bible. I used to love this verse just because it was so short, But these days, I am attracted to this verse for another reason. It is only two words long, but is it miles deep. How profound and unimaginable that Jesus wept. Our Lord and Savior cried. Our God grieved. Our God grieves. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” These verses model for us two dimensions of Christian grief. The first aspect of Christian grief is Sad Questions: Questions like “Couldn’t Jesus have kept this man from dying?” We believe in a powerful Jesus – a Jesus who can heal. And so we wonder why isn’t everybody healed. We bring our sad question to God: “Why didn’t you do something!?” The question itself, while full of disappointment, expresses hope in Jesus, it acknowledges the power of Jesus. Mary and Martha model sad questions when they confront Jesus saying “If you were here, my brother would not have died!” A while back, as a hospital chaplain I sat with a hispanic woman and her husband in the ICU. She had some sort of intestinal problem that was excruciatingly painful and as I talked with her husband, she just laid there with her eyes closed, every 5 seconds saying “Hay Dios Mio....Hay Dios Mio.” I don’t speak much Spanish so after a while I asked her husband what she was saying – “Hay Dios Mio means -- Oh my God”. And I was just amazed, she was praying. She was calling out to God for help. This woman knew how to approach God with her disappointment, with her sadness, with her pain. Sometimes sad questions just spring from us naturally – like with this woman. But sometimes we stifle our sad questions, feeling that it is wrong to question God, wrong to ever be angry or disappointed in prayer. We try not to be faithless. But notice that when Mary and Martha come to Jesus with their anger and disappointment, he does not reject or accuse them of doing something wrong, he comforts them, he teaches them, he weeps with them. This is because Sad questions and Disappointed Prayers are not faithless, they are faithful. When we ask Jesus why he didn’t heal, we show that we believe that he could have healed. We express our disappointment to one who we believe can respond. We ask God why he did not heal, because we believe he has the power to heal. The second aspect of Christian grief is one that is often forgotten. It is captured in vs. 36. When the Jews saw Jesus weeping they said “See how he loved him” When they saw Jesus crying they interpreted his tears correctly. These were no mere sympathy tears. They were not merely tears of empathy with Mary and Martha. These were Jesus own tears, because he loved Lazarus. The second aspect of Christian grief is to notice Jesus’ tears. “See how he loved him.” When we grieve, we need to notice that we are not alone. Jesus weeps with us. Many of you are experts in grief. I’m sure you know that the only consolation when you are grieving is a grieving companion. When we grieve, we do not need platitudes, we don’t need people trying to cheer us up – we need grieving companions. One of my fellow chaplains last summer, Nancy, had the sad and difficult task of being with a young Hispanic woman when she delivered a child that had died in the womb just weeks before the due date. When Nancy sat down with this crying young woman, she held her hand, and through translator she said -- “all I can do is cry with you.” And that is what she did. Nancy sat with her...and held her hand...and cried with her. When we grieve we need a grieving companion. And the truth is, God is a grieving companion for us all, because Jesus still weeps. There is a lot of hope in the fact that Jesus weeps. There is hope in those tears, because we know, that what breaks God’s heart, will one day be undone. What God grieves, God will redeem. It is right and good to question, as we grieve, “God, why didn’t you do something? And it is also right and good to notice, as we grieve, that Jesus weeps as well. These two aspects of Christian grief must be held together. As we express to God our sadness and disappointment – we must also notice the tears in his eyes. We all know what happens next: Jesus doesn’t just weep. He is compelled by he grief to action and he commands them to open the tomb and he calls to Lazarus “Lazarus, come out.” And out comes the dead man, resurrected! Death is undone. Don’t we wish that all our stories of grief ended like this - with resurrections. But the truth is our stories of grief end before the final resurrection. Our stories end at verse 37, with us continuing to wonder where God was, and yet noticing God’s grief. We are all waiting for our stories of grief to end with a resurrection – and one day they will. With Martha we can say “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Friends, there is great comfort and hope in Jesus’ words: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live even though they die and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” We cling to these words. And so we do have hope in times of grief. But we grieve nonetheless. And so does God. We are still in the time of God’s tears – waiting for the day when Jesus says to all our loved ones “Come out.” As we wait for that glorious day we continue to express our sadness to God asking even while we witness God’s own sadness. Lazarus’ story teaches us that it is alright, it is natural, it is healthy, it is even holy to approach God with sad questions in times of loss. But it also reminds us to notice that Jesus is weeping too. And we take comfort in Jesus’ tears – knowing that the one who grieves is the resurrection and the life, who will one day soon, call to all who lie in death: “Come out!”

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