What is the worst thing you’ve been told in the earliest stages of grief?
Whether you lost a loved one, a career, or a dream; chances are that some very well-meaning person has said the exact wrong thing.
“They are in a better place!”
“God won’t give you more than you can handle!”
“God must have known that they would need a special mom like you!”
They are intended as offerings of kindness and validation but often land like salt in an open wound. We’ve all lovingly offered, and received, these mostly unhelpful gifts.
The scripture that inspired this week’s prompts is John 11:1-45: the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, a story unique to the Gospel of John. In it we find the shortest verse in all of the Gospels (and in the entire English translation of the Bible):
Jesus Wept. (John 11:35)
He wept. But…Jesus knows he is going to raise Lazarus. Why is he crying?
There is something about the time that passes between a person’s death and the arrival of the clergy that is difficult to describe. People start to gather and basic logistics start to form. In this liminal space you can still remark about the weather, someone’s new blouse, or poke around at some snacks. But once the Pastor arrives, the gates open. That grief, momentarily deferred to allow for reinforcement (or maybe an 11th hour miracle), crashes down. A new reality has come.
This isn’t a time for platitudes. This is a time for comfort, for empathy and compassion. And, if it isn’t a time for words at all, it might be a time for weeping.
Mary, Martha and their friends are waiting for Jesus; they know that whatever comes next, he is the gatekeeper. They are full of questions, as we are when we lose that which we love. They know that Lazarus will rise again “at the resurrection on the last day” but why did he have to die here and now? Couldn’t something have been done? We called on you, Lord. Where have you been?
They didn’t receive an answer, at least not one that they could understand. But they saw Jesus weeping and saw how he had loved Lazarus. They saw how he grieved with them.
Because Jesus knows he is going to raise Lazarus – he absolutely knows. But we can believe in the ultimate ending, and still cry for how it has to be.
I have seen hearts change for Christ because of how a body of believers responded and consoled them after the loss of a loved one. I have heard powerful testimonies about how families survived a catastrophic loss of resources because of how a church carried them through the crisis.
The Lord never promised us a life without hardship, but the presence of God and of each other is the reward of a persistent faith. We weep together. We show up and walk through the darkness together. We never forget the first responders of love, and their consolation is what turns our test into a testimony of grace.
This post was originally published as a part of a lent devotional my church, Sterling United Methodist, is writing. Check out this and other posts on the church blog!