I recently had the privilege of leading a small memorial service for my great aunt and uncle and shared these words below. I hope they minister to you, as they ministered to me and my family in our time of grief.
I was reading scripture earlier this week and God led me to a passage that I think is fitting for today. It’s a passage where Jesus, too, is at the graveside of someone he dearly loved. It’s a passage we all know well – the story of the death of Lazarus in the Gospel of John.
As we know in the story, Lazarus is sick, and so Mary and Martha send word to Jesus so that He might come quickly and save him. However, when Jesus gets word, He intentionally waits, and when He finally arrives, He’s too late. Lazarus has been in dead for four days.
And then what happens is the most striking, and memorable, part of the story. John tells us that: “when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept” (John 11:32-35).
They said to Him, “come and see.”
Now this is not the first time that we’ve heard the phrase “come and see.” In fact, it’s a rather familiar invitation in the Gospels. In the very first chapter of John, two disciples meet Jesus on the road and He invites them to follow Him by saying, “Come and see” (John 1:39).
“Come and see” is Jesus’ invitation to life with Him. It’s a call to follow where He leads, come when He calls, and be amazed at the miracles He works. “Come and see” is a summons to set aside all other commitments and begin journeying with Jesus on the road of discipleship.
But here, in John 11, the roles have switched. It is no longer Jesus issuing the invitation but his followers. It is Mary, grieving over the death of her brother, and those gathered to mourn with her, who turn to Jesus and say to Him, “Lord, come and see.” And the invitation is no longer one pregnant with promise, hope and expectation. It’s an invitation not into a way of life, but a place of death.
What these words reveal is that Jesus’ followers were not afraid to come to Him in their grief; they weren’t afraid to invite Him into their pain. They don’t shield Jesus from death, or pretend they’re ok, or fix him up a really good meal. No, they take Him directly to the graveside and invite Him to be a companion in their pain — to look at death alongside them.
And how does Jesus respond?
He doesn’t say, “stop crying.”
He doesn’t say, “be strong.”
He doesn’t say, “work harder.”
Jesus could have done a hundred different things. He knew the end of the story – that He’d raise Lazarus from the dead. He could have stopped their weeping immediately. He could have offered encouraging words. He could have performed the miracle right then and there. But, instead, He “groans in His spirit” and joins them in grieving.
Now this is a mystery to us in many ways – a mystery that becomes even more mysterious when we realize that the Greek word translated here as “wept” is used only once in the New Testament, in this particular instance of grief. Jesus wept in a particular way – a unique way – a way that only God-made-man weeps at the sight of something he experiences in his humanity but will miraculously overcome.
And yet, though Jesus’ weeping is mysterious, the message of His mourning is quite clear: God wants us to invite Him into our places of pain. He accepts our invitation when we have the courage to ask Him in. And with his tears He shows us that our weeping is not a waste of time. In fact, He demonstrates that it is the only adequate response to the evil that is death – an experience that God did not intend, but one that He conquered on the cross and will eradicate when He returns.
And so, as Thessalonians 4:13 reminds us, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our hope is in Christ, and in His return, when each of us, glowing in the light of His glory, greet the Father who loves us and who wipes away our every tear. This is a hope worth contemplating – worth sitting-with, and thinking-about, and allowing our imaginations to marinate in. As Romans 8 reminds, resurrection is a promise and our sure and certain hope.
But what this passage reveals is that the hope of the resurrection – a hope realized in the story of Lazarus, and one which we await – does not render our grieving insignificant. Rather, it shows us that hope and grief are companions on the journey of discipleship and that Jesus leads us in them both. He helps us to respond to our pain and meets us in the midst of it through the work of the Holy Spirit. In the absence of Jesus’ physical presence, the Spirit comes as a comforter – as one who prays on our behalf with “groanings too deep for words” – groanings that I imagine were much like the “groanings” of Jesus at the graveside of Lazarus.
So, come, Holy Spirit. Be with us now. Intercede on our behalf before the Father and put the groanings of our grief into words we could not manufacture. Give us the grace to weep and guide us into hope as we walk forward on this journey with You.