The raising of Lazarus has some interesting dimensions to it.
The first one is when Jesus hears that Lazarus is ill he doesn’t immediately go to see him.
When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
Martha realises what Jesus has done and says: “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
Or there’s the part about Jesus telling his disciples that Lazarus has not died but is only sleeping and he’s going there to wake him up.
Then there is the stench that Lazarus has made after having been in the tomb for 4 days.
Or the part where Jesus yells at Lazarus telling him to come out of the grave.
But the part that really intrigues me in all this is what is regarded as the shortest verse in the bible:
Just 2 words but a huge impact as we try to understand death.
The reason I find this so intriguing is, why Jesus would weep.
Jesus knows that after a person dies they enter into heaven.
And even the fact that Jesus knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, why then would he weep.
What this reveals, I believe, is the real impact of death upon us and on God and what grief brings when someone we love dies.
Even on Jesus, the King of Kings – the Lord of Lords – the Son of God – the one who said he is the Resurrection and the life – who said that whoever believes in him shall live even though they die – he is brought to tears when he is faced with the harsh reality of death.
Death was not in God’s original plan of creation so it is so foreign even to God.
When Eve was asked by the serpent regarding the rules of the Garden of Eden she says:
“We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.
So death was not the plan of God but a consequence of disobedience.
So when Jesus himself experiences the loss of a friend – even though he knows God’s plan of the resurrection, it is so foreign even to him.
And when John sees the revelation of the new heaven and the new earth the very first thing he sees and declares:
There will be no more death!
Death is the first thing to be dealt with in Heaven.
Of all the experiences in our human life the death of a loved one is the most difficult.
In fact the death of a loved one is more difficult than facing our own death.
Jesus didn’t weep at his own death as he experienced excruciating pain.
In fact he found it within himself to ask God to forgive his executioners.
He was even able to share the Gospel with the thief being crucified next to him telling him today he will be in paradise.
As Christians we know that our own death means a passage into heaven to live with God where there will be no more suffering or death.
But at the death of a loved one we know that we must go through the rest of our life without that person we love.
And so grief becomes our expression of love for the one we love who has gone to be with God.
Grief hurts because the love we are expressing experiences also the reality of our sinfulness.
Let me explain that:
St Paul says in Romans 6, the wages of sin is death.
So when someone we love dies we are reminded of our own sin that caused the reality of death in this lifetime.
As Jesus was experiencing the reality of his own death he cried out not because of the physical pain he was experiencing but the spiritual pain of sin and the hurt and separation it brings;
He cries out “my God, my God – why have you forsaken me”?
He doesn’t cry out – why all this pain.
That is not physical pain he is experiencing but the spiritual pain of death and separation.
A pain that is inconsolable.
A pain that Jesus describes in his teachings of hell where there is eternal separation from God.
Hell is not a physical pain but the spiritual pain of eternal separation from God.
In a world without the Christian faith you can understand how difficult death is because it is not only the death of a love one that confronts you but also your own death.
As I’ve heard many many times from people’s deathbed saying that they don’t understand how a person without faith handles death.
And that’s also what St Paul says when he speaks about grief in death.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of humankind, who have no hope.
It doesn’t say that we should not grieve – but in our grief let hope bring comfort.
We have hope – hope in the resurrection – hope in God’s loving care both here on earth and in eternity.
St John gives us a glimpse of that care we will see face to face but that same care we have now which is hidden behind the pain of sin;
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
The old order of things has died.
That love and care that we will experience – which our loved ones are now experiencing – is actually here with us now though we don’t fully see it.
St Paul speaks about that hiddenness in Colossians when he says:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is NOW hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Notice he speaks in the present tense when speaking about God’s presence with us – since you HAVE been raised with Christ – when Christ who IS your life.
Your life is NOW hidden with Christ in God
But he also speaks in the future tense for when we will see and understand:
Then you also will appear with him in glory.
But until then we live with the grief of losing a loved one.
A grief which is our continuing to express our love for someone after they have died.
A grief that is comforted by the Christian hope that death is not the end of life but the beginning of new eternal life in heaven.