Sermon by Pastor Seth

Sermon by Pastor Seth

Sermons

The Weeping Christ

June 26, 2024

The smell of anointing oils have long since succumbed to the scent of a body letting go, the linen wrap now collecting a thin layer of dust like an offering from the earth gently embracing the stilled form beneath it, a reminder of our beginning — dust cradled in the creative palm of God’s loving hand coming back home. It’s quiet in the womb of rock encasing the one now at rest, settled and secure behind the stone.

It’s too late; Lazarus is gone.

It’s been four days since his passing. A bereft Martha stands up and takes leave of her sister Mary and the company of mourners who have come to console them as they grieve the loss of their brother. Walking down the road, she meets Jesus upon his late arrival in Bethany, and Martha has some words.

“If only you had been here,” she laments. “My brother would not have died.” There is a heaviness to Martha’s longing for things to be different, confusion and frustration claiming her in the grips of her sadness.

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus responds. “I am the resurrection and the life.”

There is a certainty and confidence to Jesus’s claims here in the passage preceding our scripture for this week — a solace to his words, engendering the hope of belief in him amidst the despair of loss. Upon hearing Jesus’s reply, Martha professes her faith in him: a seemingly stoic Christ with grand spiritual statements keeping his feelings in check and under control in the wake of his friend’s death. Something shifts, though, once Mary herself ventures out of the house to go meet Christ with the company of mourners in tow — an encounter that leaves Jesus no choice but to confront his own grief.

SCRIPTURE: John 11:30-35

In his book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow, psychotherapist and author, Francis Weller, remarks, “Beyond the crazed hunger in our culture to be exceptional, loss and sorrow wear away whatever masks we attempt to present to the world…We are stripped of excess and revealed as human in our times of grief.” Having spent decades working with individuals navigating loss, steeped in his own personal familiarity with it, Weller has spent a career tending to the messiness of mourning — the winding, rolling terrain of denial and acceptance, confusion and numbness, despair and anger and everything else that breaks through our heart’s barriers in the face of death and dying.

“Grief punctures the solidity of our world,” he says, “shatters the certainty of fixed stars, familiar landscapes, and known destinations…We worry that this house of sorrow will be our final resting place, that our days will always be overcast, gray, and dulled by the sadness we carry.”

As a society, we are uncomfortable with grief, especially the expression of it. It makes sense. Feeling lost in the wake of loss and the full weight of overwhelm is a harrowing journey to make and be witnessed by others. Some of us try desperately to cling to what we can if we can at all — encouragement, distraction, clichés, life rafts to help bypass the murkiest of waters that threaten to drown us. We claw at hope in the hereafter — a see you later rather than a goodbye, they are with God now, death is not a period — because it is impossible to reconcile that they are gone from our lives.

It is okay to hold on to these comforts. It is okay to trust in belief as Martha does and find relief in it. Sometimes that is the only thing carrying us from moment to moment. However, we must not neglect the act of love that is tending to the discomfort of our grief because feeling what we need to feel is okay too. Not only okay but necessary, holy. And that can be a terrifying prospect. It’s terrifying because in order to confront our grief, we must allow ourselves to let go of our control over where it might lead us.

Francis Weller goes on to say, “We have the sense that we are on a slow walk with no obvious direction. Fortunately, grief knows where to take us; we are on a pilgrimage to [the] soul.”

In the span of a few verses, we witness Jesus the Christ giving himself permission to simply be Jesus the grieving friend. The grandiose spirituality of an eternal promise giving way to the raw and reeling tempest of a heart breaking over the bitterness of loss. In verse 33, we read that Jesus was “deeply moved” as the sisters and company of mourners wept around him. The Greek word translated, “deeply moved,” comes from a word that can be translated another way: “to roar with rage.” A long way from stoic, emotional impassability, Jesus was moved, roaring in pain, and then in verse 35, in an act of unfiltered vulnerability, we read: Jesus began to weep.

The shortest verse in all of scripture but I believe one of the most important. The Son of God waters the earth with mourner’s tears, the Divine incarnate allowing himself to let go of control to let his grief carry him, his God hold him, daring to love and to be moved by the love of another despite the painful inevitability of loss. If God weeps, how could weeping be anything other than holy?

Of course this is not the end of the story. Jesus eventually goes to the tomb and raises Lazarus from the grave. I believe it telling, though, that Jesus does not simply go straight to the tomb, that he stops to let his heart break, his grief be witnessed in community, his tears be a sermon on the ground. Ultimately this is a hopeful story, but before we can celebrate a resurrected Lazarus, we must first contend with a weeping Christ.

Allowing our own grief to take up space is not only essential for our well being, it is sacred in its expression. Every fallen tear, every story told, every piercing pang of sorrow a testament to the love we bear for those we’ve lost with nowhere to go but the outstretched palm of a God who says, I am with you. Our grief is a witness to the depths of our love, a courageous love that has allowed the love of another to dwell in the depths of us, and in order to honor it, to honor them, that is exactly where we must go. We must go to our depths and make friends with sorrow’s presence there — a friendship of weeping and roaring, singing and laughing, numbness and inspiration, sadness and the Sacred — knowing that mourning is a blessed state of being, a reflected image of the divine, and that God weeps with us.

The words of an anonymous 12th century poet say it well:

“Eleh Ezkerah—These We Remember

‘Tis a fearful thing

to love

What death can touch.

To love, to hope, to dream,

And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

Love

But a holy thing,

To love what death can touch.

For your life has lived in me;

Your laugh once lifted me;

Your word was a gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love,

A holy thing,

To love

What death can touch.”

(Sourced from The Wild Edge of Sorrow, Francis Weller)

And so today, we remember. We remember the lives of Susan, Kathleen, Corey, Andrea, Brian, Odell, Denise, and Steve. In community, we let our grief bear witness to our love for them and their love for us as we weep and mourn, celebrate and honor, reminisce and let go, knowing that it is all welcomed and holy here. As we do, may we know that we are held in community and by a God who is love.