The Power of Tears
By Rev. Kyle Norman
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept.” (John 11:33-35)
It is the shortest of all the verses found in Scripture. In English, the verse amounts to two words; in its original Greek, the statement is 16 characters long. Jesus wept. This small verse, tucked in the middle of a much larger narrative, is expansive in meaning. It reveals the fullness of the incarnation.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus wept? Jesus’ tears seem particularly confusing given that Jesus already knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus proclaims this fact to the disciples. “Lazarus is fallen asleep,” Jesus says, “I am going to wake him up” (11:11). The death of Lazarus will bring glory to Jesus and reveal himself as the inaugurator of eternal life, the one in whom resurrection is accomplished. Jesus even declares this truth to Martha. In plain and uncomplicated language, Jesus proclaims, “your brother will rise again” (11:23). The raising of Lazarus is part of God’s plan. And yet, standing before Mary and Martha, seeing their tears, and hearing their sobs, Jesus openly weeps.
The raising of Lazarus is miraculous and triumphant. Yet to truly understand the dynamics of this account and the intimacy revealed in Christ’s own tears, we can’t rush past the sadness of Mary and Martha. We must wilfully remain with the sisters and witness their confusion, their anger, and their grief.
Consider for a moment that Lazarus, the sisters’ only brother, had become so sick that the two send word to Jesus. Lazarus is not sick with a routine cold; he lies on death’s door. His sisters know the diagnosis. So, despite the threat to Jesus in returning to Judea, they send word to the only person who will be able to provide healing to their brother. And because they have a personal relationship with Jesus, they probably expect Jesus to hurry to their aid.
But that’s not what happens. Jesus hears the news but remains for two more days. Yes, Jesus declares to his disciples that he will raise Lazarus from the dead, but the two worried sisters know nothing about this conversation. All they experience is silence.
Have you ever experienced anything like this?
Lazarus slowly gets weaker. The sickness begins to take over, and eventually, that which Mary and Martha prayed would not happen, that which they wanted Jesus to prevent, occurs. Lazarus dies. Their world is shattered. Making matters worse, Jesus has still not responded to their request.
With that deafening silence playing in the background, the sisters go through the needed steps of burial. They cover the lifeless body in spices and ointment and wrap him in cloth. They receive guests into their home and receive condolences from friends and family. At some point, they take their brother to the tomb and roll the stone in front of the entrance. All is complete, their brother is gone.
And for each of these steps, the Lord has not yet appeared. No indication is given that Jesus is even concerned with Lazarus’ condition. Eventually, four days after they have buried their brother, Jesus walks into town. In response, each sister says the same thing: “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died!” (11:21,32)
Can you understand their confusion, their hurt, their anger? The two sisters probably question the reason for Jesus’ delay. Did Jesus know the situation? Did they do something wrong? Was Lazarus not loved enough? And with those questions in their mind, and the agonizing journey of grief and mourning they have been on, Mary falls at Jesus feet with tears flooding her vision.
The heartbreak is visceral, the grief is real. But so is Jesus’s love. Jesus’ love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus is so strong that he cannot remain unmoved. He adds his own tears to theirs. Jesus weeps.
Intersecting Faith and Life:
Jesus’ love for us is so pronounced that he cannot stand unaffected by our lives. Our grief and sadness touch his heart. When we cry out to him in frustration or confusion, Jesus lends his tears to our own. This is the power of the incarnation. Jesus is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). The incarnation means that there is no part of our lives, no matter how dark or ugly, where Jesus is not present.
It can be easy to think that faith makes us unaffected by the hardships of life. When we think this way, we can easily assume that tears of struggle or frustration, mourning or sadness, is somehow contrary to the belief in the resurrection. Faith means we remain stalwart and smiling amid all of life’s ups and downs, right? Wrong.
Faith means that we live our lives with Jesus. It means that we do not cover over our feelings, our thoughts, our doubts, or our laments. Faith means we believe in the love of Jesus so strongly that even the raw and unkempt feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, or grief become directed towards the one who cries with us. And the incarnation means that Jesus is there. Jesus does not separate himself from those feelings, he enters them; he shares them.
So, weep away. Cry aloud. Mourn, shout, and scream. Express your confusion and frustration. The Lord is with you.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/pcess609
The Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada. He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.com, ibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others. He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca. He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.
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