Jesus wept: a talk for a town memorial service
|Jesus raises Lazarus. Ravenna|
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It is good, although it is also painful, to come to remember, to give thanks, but also to be here with many other people who are grieving
Grief can be a lonely experience.
Our society does not do death well. People are good for a few weeks, but then they forget and for them life goes on as usual. But we cannot forget, we will not forget and life, if you can call it that, will never be the same again.
So it is good to know that we are not on our own.
The verses above tell of the death of a dear friend of Jesus. His name was Lazarus. And the passage tells us that when he turns up and sees the grief of Martha and Mary (the dead man's sisters), 'Jesus wept'.
Those two words combine to make the shortest verse in the bible; they have also become swear words - but they also tell us something about the heart of God for people who grieve.
Jesus does not weep for Lazarus
When we grieve we weep for the person who has died. Yes, they may now be out of their suffering, but we weep that they had to suffer, or that so much was stripped away from them. Maybe we weep because we saw how hard it was for them to say goodbye, or we saw how they tried to hold on to life - in vain. We weep because of lost opportunities, of what they could have been or done, or because of what they once were and what they became; or we weep simply because this world would be a far far better place if they were still here.
Jesus does not weep for Lazarus - because he knows that in a few minutes Lazarus will be living again.
And Jesus does not weep for himself
Again, when we grieve, we weep for ourselves: for what we have lost, because we feel abandoned; for our loneliness and powerlessness. The rock that we depended on, the purpose for whom we lived, the very ground of our identity, the light that brightened our day, 'our sun and our moon' in the words of Auden's poem, has been ripped away from us. And we weep because our life now seems so empty and meaningless. We weep because of that ache which is in us and which is so physical. Or we weep because we see in them our own destiny.
Please do not think that it is wrong to weep for yourself. The more that you have loved someone, the more that they were part of you, the more you will weep for yourself when they have died.
But Jesus does not weep for himself in his loss of Lazarus, because he knows that even though Lazarus has been dead for 4 days, in a few minutes Lazarus will be living again.
He is going to stand outside that tomb, tell them to move away the stone, and command Lazarus to come out - and Lazarus will come out.
No, Jesus weeps for Martha and for Mary, and he weeps for you. He wept because he sees the utter devastation that death causes.
He knows that in a few minutes Lazarus will be alive. But he also knows that Lazarus will die again, that Martha and Mary will die; that your beloved will die.
And Jesus sees the pain of Martha and Mary. And because this is the eternal Son of God who we are talking about, in their pain he sees your pain. He weeps with compassion for them - and he weeps with compassion for you.
Jesus wept because in this world - despite the poetry - death is bigger than love. It tears apart those who love each other. And he weeps for broken love.
But Jesus does not only weep for us. Jesus also gives us hope.
At the back of this church there is a window on which are depicted four scenes from the life of Jesus. They tell the story of how Jesus raised three people from the dead: the only son of a widow; a 12 year old girl and Lazarus.
There were, of course, many people who died in Israel when Jesus was alive.
If he had the power to do that, why did he not then restore more sons to their widowed mothers, more children to their parents? Why did he not raise more people from the dead?
But Jesus brought those three people back from the dead in order to give us hope.
He showed people that although in this world death is bigger than love, for God love is bigger than death.
He demonstrated that he, Jesus Christ, is the destroyer of death and the giver of life.
Martha accuses Jesus. When she says to him, 'Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died', her tone, the expression on her face, her body language would have screamed out: 'Jesus, if you had bothered to get here earlier - and we told you Lazarus was sick - you could have healed him'.
And perhaps you too are thinking, 'I'm with Martha here. I prayed - I really prayed - and God, you didn't turn up.'
But Jesus had turned up - not as Martha expected, not when Martha expected - and he says to her, ' I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though they will die, yet shall they live'.
In other words he is saying, 'Martha, I am not in the business of bringing people back from the dead so that they will die again. I'm into something much bigger. I am the source of Life. If you put your trust in me, if you come to me and receive me as the one who is the source of Life and Love, and if you receive my free gift of forgiveness and eternal life, then even though you will physically die, and Lazarus will physically die, you will never really die'.
I spoke of how the window at the back shows four scenes from the life of Jesus.
The fourth scene is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
A few weeks after the raising of Lazarus, they arrested Jesus, crucified him and buried him. But he is bigger than death, and 3 days later God raised him from the dead - never to die again. And Jesus appeared to many of his followers on several different occasions - and their lives were changed. Although they were mocked and ridiculed, misrepresented, arrested, tortured and executed; although they were fed to the wild beasts or set on fire as human torches - they were prepared to follow him to the ends of the earth: they had a hope.
They had seen Jesus weep.
They knew that he cared.
But they had seen Jesus rise from the dead.
They knew that here is someone who is bigger than death
- that when we die it does not need to be the end
- that love is bigger than death
May God bless you
May you know the compassion of Jesus
And in your grief, may you know the life and the hope that he gives.