Something was terribly wrong
The two women knew something was wrong when their otherwise strong, vibrant brother went to lie down on his bed in the middle of the afternoon. “This isn’t like him,” they thought but dared not say, though the glances that they shot at one another told them both they were thinking the same thing. In the morning he had been fixing the gate at the pasture, at lunchtime he was not his normal light-hearted self, but quiet and tired. Now he was in bed.
“I’m sending a message for the physician,” the older one whispered. “He’ll know what to do.” With all the speed she could manage she found someone going to the city to take the message that he was urgently needed and to come quickly.
When she returned, her brother was burning with fever, writhing in pain, and moaning in a delirium. The two sisters prayed that the physician would get there soon.
By morning the women knew it was just a matter of hours, if not minutes, and their dear, kind brother would be gone. They had seen this many times before. Death – or rather dying – was not the unfamiliar thing to them that it may be for you or me. They had watched their parents die, and the tell-tale breathing, weakness, and draining color were all there.
And they were right. He was gone by mid-morning.
The tears flowed freely and the pain of losing him was almost more than they could bear. The sobs racked their small frames and though they were surrounded by a host of neighbors and family members, all they wanted was for him to come back. They had never been without him. Ever since their parents died, the three siblings loved and cared for one another as few have known.
Because of the heat and the lack of provisions to keep his body at home for a few more days, the burial arrangements were made quickly. He was laid to rest with all the honor due a wonderful man, but he was dead – and gone – nonetheless. The sisters were heartbroken.
The Inexorable Grip of Grief
Grief is a terrible thing. It holds captive the mind and the emotions as few experiences can. It is all consuming, inexorably gripping, and in its rawest moments, literally painful. Grief hurts in a way that no other emotional experience can. Breathing hurts. Sitting, lying down, and thinking all hurt. And these two sisters, at a time and in a culture where their brother was not only their dearest friend, but also their protector and provider, were not only grieving the loss of their beloved friend, but also facing a future of unimaginable consequences.
Four days later the physician, their very close friend, finally arrived. They were so happy to see him, but nothing could assuage their deep, abiding, and overwhelming grief.
They asked with aching hearts and burning, tear-filled eyes, “Why didn’t you come sooner?” “If you had come right away he wouldn’t have died – I know you could have helped him.” “What kept you?”
When Jesus saw them weeping, and those who were gathered together with them also weeping, he was moved and greatly troubled at their distress. When he asked the sisters, “Where have you laid him?” and they showed him, Jesus wept in such as way that others gathered near whispered to themselves, “See how much he loved him!”
This story can be one of the ones that we become a little callous to – because we know what happens next. But the truth is, Jesus knew what was going to happen next, and yet he grieved with them.
Isaiah 53 tells us that Jesus was a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” and until I heard this story again about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus the other night, I had never connected the two. I know that Jesus bore many griefs that we will never begin to understand – the sin of the world, the rejection, the agony of the wrath of God and the separation he felt – these are real and undeniable (and not even close to an exhaustive list). So Jesus knows what it is like to feel grief – more intensely and more profoundly than we ever will.
Jesus enters our grief
But this story makes it clear that Jesus knows what it is like to enter into another’s grief as well. Jesus knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead – he told his disciples so before they began the journey to Bethany where he already knew that Lazarus had died. But the sight of the sisters in deep, agonizing grief moved him with visible compassion. Jesus wept because he saw the pain that death had caused his dear friends. He wept for their sorrow and for their broken hearts. Jesus wept because he became acquainted with their grief.
What kind of love is this? He didn’t need to do that. He could have just gone straight to, “Lazarus, come forth!” and gotten him out of his grave clothes. He could have said, “What’s all this fuss about? He’s not dead, but only sleeping. Come now – stop your crying and see.” But he wouldn’t deny the pain that these two sisters were in – even though he knew their sorrow would turn to joy in a few moments.
Beloved – this is our same Savior. He knows that our lives are but a vapor, but he is acquainted with our griefs. He doesn’t just relate to our grief because he has felt his own – he enters into our griefs with us because he loves us that deeply. He knows that he will change our sorrows into joy before we know it – and that from the perspective of eternity, this is very, very little. But as Jesus entered into the pain and sorrow of Mary and Martha’s grief, even knowing what he was about to do, he enters into ours as well.
Jesus was indeed a man of many sorrows of his own. But he was also a man acquainted with grief – not only his own, but his beloved’s as well. Jesus doesn’t only enter into our grief because he knows what grief is like and can understand what we are feeling. He enters in and feels it with us because he knows and loves us.
That is a good and kind Savior. May the joy of this Risen Friend be more deeply yours than it ever has been – each and every day.