The long limousine slides under the flags waving at attention, past the plastic bouquets gone limp from exposure, around the concrete angel with its wings drawn in mourning to the cul-de-sac where a green tent covers a row of white chairs, a hole in the ground, and a people dressed in black. The pallbearers process; the casket comes to a close; and the shovels of dirt bury the last word.
Days late, miles behind the limo, Jesus shows up at the tombstone in Bethany. “Lord,” Martha says, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” In response, recorded only here in the Gospels, Jesus weeps. Why?
John 11:32-44 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 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.”
Those who know Jesus best still don’t believe in his power of resurrection.
He’s sad about losing a friend, one of the only people he didn’t have to be the Messiah around.
Because so many chose lives of bondage, even when life abundant is freely offered.
In John’s Gospel, as observed by Fred Craddock, there’s no crisis in garden of Gethsemane, no passing the cup of suffering. Nor are there any groans from the cross, no yelling objections from Golgotha. Instead, Jesus has a dripping nose and swollen face, a blurry-eyed emotional breakdown.
The Times of Jerusalem newspaper didn’t just list Lazarus, a selfless servant from Bethany survived by his two sisters Mary and Martha. But the obituary section also listed one Jesus from Nazareth. 30 years old, shepherd evangelist and prophetic prophet, who loved children that weren’t his own and had a habit of sacrifice.
Why does Jesus weep?
Because he’s attending, not just Lazarus’s funeral, but his own. For Jesus to transition from the son of a carpenter to the Son of Man, he too must die. For Lazarus to exit the tomb, Jesus must enter it. Not just for one of his best buddies, but for a whole world bound up in burial clothes.
During this week of All Saints, we are reminded again that death makes a theologian out of all of us. The truth we confess is most clarified in the cemetery. More than the science of Creation or the history of the Church, the theory of atonement or the nature of the Trinity, Christians believe, most fundamentally, in the resurrection of the dead. That the shovel doesn’t have the last word, but only the Word made Flesh does.
So take heart all of you who grieve the empty chair at the dinning room table, who stare at the picture in your billfold, who lament the loss of your life.
Hear the Good News: Miscarried baby, come out! Diseased child, come out! Gun downed citizen, come out! Martyred disciple, come out! Senile grandfather, come out! Lazarus, come out!
Unbind them all, and let them go.