It’s OK to cry.
It’s OK to cry when a loved one dies. It’s OK to cry months or years later when a sudden memory stabs you with pain. It’s OK to cry on anniversaries or other special dates when that beloved person feels so close and yet so far away.
It’s OK to cry because even Jesus cried at the death of his friend Lazarus.
We don’t know much about their friendship. We know only that Lazarus is not one of Jesus’ Twelve closest disciples, and yet he is one of Jesus’ closest friends. Theirs is a special friendship, and when Lazarus dies, Jesus is visibly shaken.
When arrives in Bethany, he meets the two sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. They berate him for not arriving sooner. They say: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
This is both a statement of faith and a complaint. It is a statement of faith that Jesus could have done something to prevent Lazarus from dying, and a complaint that he did not arrive in time to do it.
He did delay two days in coming to them, after he was told that Lazarus was ill. But when he arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead four days, so probably there was no way he could have gotten there in time.
All the sisters know for sure is that if he had been there, he could have done something. So that’s what they tell him.
Not, “Lord, how good of you to come.”
Not, “Lord, it’s good to see you.”
Not, “Lord, I am comforted by your presence.”
But rather, “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.”
When Jesus sees the depth of their grief, he is overcome by emotion.
Translators fumble trying to describe his reaction. They say he is “disturbed in spirit” or “deeply moved” or even provoked to something approaching anger. What the Greek text seems to be saying is that an involuntary groan is wrenched from his body, and he trembles with emotion.
You’ve seen and heard that groan from people who are grieving. Probably you have felt it yourself. I have. That is how deeply Jesus feels for his friends.
As he is led to the tomb, he is so overcome that he bursts into tears.
The King James Version gives us a two-word sentence, “Jesus wept.” That has been described as one of the most vivid sentences in all English literature, and yet it utterly fails to capture the full sense of what’s going on. Jesus does not merely weep. He is convulsed by tears.
Bystanders are heard to exclaim, “See how much he loved him!”
Why is he so shaken? He knows what’s going to happen next. He knows he is going to call Lazarus out of that tomb. He knows that in only a few minutes his friend will be alive again. And yet he is overcome by grief. He is overcome by emotion at the cold reality of death.
If the Son of God can cry at the tomb of a friend, it’s OK for us to cry at the death of a loved one or the memory of a loved one.
It’s OK because we are mourning a great loss. We are mourning the loss of a valuable relationship. We are mourning the loss of our hopes and dreams for that person. We are mourning our own loneliness.
It is altogether fitting and right that we should weep. Yet, as the Apostle Paul tells us, we do not grieve as those who lack hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We do not grieve from utter despair. We know that our parting is only temporary. As much as we will miss them in the interim, we know that we will see our loved one again.
The exciting news that Jesus has for Mary and Martha – and for us – is that he offers even more hope than that.
Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
He is both the resurrection and the life. He is both the future and the present – and in him both future and present are one.
He makes this promise: “Those who believe in me will live, even though they die, and those who live and believe in me will never die.”
In saying this, he tells us several things.
First, he affirms our hope in the resurrection. We who believe in Jesus, even though we die physically, will not die spiritually. We will live again, and we will live eternally.
Heaven, the New Jerusalem, eternal life, resurrection life – these are all words we use to describe this powerful and sustaining hope that we have in Jesus. But it is not the only hope that Jesus gives us.
This new life is not simply life that goes on forever. It is not just a matter of quantity. Just as importantly, it is a matter of quality.
“Those who believe in me will live,” Jesus says. They won’t just exist. They won’t just plow ahead one day at a time, lurching from one crisis to the next, but really live.
Elsewhere, Jesus calls it abundant life. (John 10.10) It is life that is good not because of our circumstances, which may or may not be good at any given moment. It’s life that is good because of Jesus’ presence with us.
Those who believe in me live in me, Jesus says. Jesus is the source of all life, and when we place our trust in him, we are directly connected to him who is the source of life.
As the great commentator William Barclay says, when we believe in Jesus we enter into not only a new relationship with God but also a new relationship with life itself.
Our life is not determined by our immediate circumstance. It is not determined by our pain or our losses. It is not even determined by our death. It is determined solely by God’s grace and our trust in Jesus that flows from God’s grace.
It’s a living promise from the living Jesus who rules not only in our hearts but also at the right hand of the Father Almighty.
It’s a promise from the Jesus who delayed going to Bethany because he knew that Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem, and that is where his last journey soon would end.
It’s a promise from the Jesus who went to the cross to show his love for all of us.
It’s a promise from the Jesus who allowed himself to be tortured to death for our sakes.
It’s a promise from the Jesus whose body lay in the cold rock tomb for two nights.
It’s a promise from the Jesus who was resurrected to new life.
This living Jesus is the one who promises that we, too, will be resurrected, and that we, too, can live the abundant, utterly free life that he lived.
A life in which it’s OK to cry even when we know that grief won’t have last word.
A life in which we can change direction when we’ve gone the wrong way.
A life in which we can overcome past mistakes.
A life in which we can be free of guilt and shame.
A life in which we can have hope for the future, as well as hope for the present.
All because of Jesus, who stood at the tomb of his friend and said, “Lazarus, come out!”
He stands at the tomb of our lives and says to us, “Come out!”
Come out to a life that is not bound by your past.
Come out to a life that is not bound by your death.
Come out to a life that is bound only by the unmeasurable depths and heights and widths and lengths of God’s great love for you.
Come out to eternal life.
Come out abundant life.
You who are dead, be raised to new life! Come out!
“Come out!” is a message preached Nov. 3, 2019, All Saints Sunday, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, Edgerton, Kansas, by the Rev. James Hopwood; based on John 11.