When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God, the one coming into the world.”
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So 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?”
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
Our story from John today starts with Jesus receiving news that Lazarus is ill. Though there is no specific request that he come and heal him, the request is certainly implied, both by the effort taken to get the news to Jesus and by the responses of Mary and Martha when he finally does show up. After receiving the news that his friend is ill, Jesus waits two days, then he goes to Bethany, the town where Lazarus and his sisters live.
Martha greets Jesus out on the road, lamenting, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus reminds her that he is the resurrection and the life, that in him there is no death for those who believe. Martha responds by declaring him the Messiah. Mary comes out to meet Jesus on the road as well, with the same words Martha did: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary then collapsed at Jesus’ feet, crying, feeling the weight of a grief so unbearable she literally cannot stand.
Mary is joined by family and friends and neighbors, all sharing in the grief of losing someone they loved. We’ve all been there. We know what that is like, to share our grief with others, to bear one another’s pain. It is hard and it is holy and it is healing. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus sees all this weeping, he sees all of the pain surrounding him, and he is “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” And Jesus joins them in their grief, and he begins to weep as well.
Let’s think about this for a moment. Jesus wept.
He knows what is coming - he knows that he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead, that joy is about to come with the resurrection, that death will not have the final word. And yet, he is deeply moved by the suffering he sees around him. The God we worship is not a far off God who cannot understand our sorrow - rather he is a God who has put on flesh, who has felt our sorrow, who has wept alongside us.
We worship a savior who knows our pain, who has sat with us in our pain, who sits with us in our pain, even now. When we hurt, Jesus is deeply moved and he hurts with us. We know this life will never be without pain - whether it is the pain caused by the current global crisis or something we were experiencing long before that came along, we know that we are not promised a life free of suffering.
Mary and Martha and Lazarus enjoyed a close personal relationship with the incarnate Jesus Christ, and yet even they did not escape the trials of this world. Perhaps they thought they might. The sisters sent word to Jesus of Lazarus’ illness perhaps hoping, perhaps even assuming, that Jesus would come and heal him, to ease his suffering and theirs.
Instead, Jesus tarried, Lazarus died, and they thought all hope was lost. Jesus did not come until the fourth day - the day when the body of Lazarus was not just in the tomb but starting to stink and decay and lose all resemblance of ever having once been alive. They had to wait. They had to realize that the miracle they were going to receive was not necessarily the one they had wanted, or expected, or hoped for. But it was a miracle nonetheless - Lazarus had died, and Jesus brought him back from the dead.
Jesus wept and suffered alongside them, and then he brought forth new life from the pain and the suffering. What new life will Jesus bring out of our current pain?
Oh Lord, we cry out to you in our pain, and we know that you weep alongside us. Be with us in our grief. Help us to be with others in their grief. May our witness to the world be one of love and comfort in times of deep pain. Amen.