Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
-- John 11:32-36, ESV
In this part of the Lazarus story, we come to terms with our tears. We don't talk about them often, as sadness and its subsequent shedding of tears is a difficult subject to address. We'd rather avoid it altogether, having inherited a stiff upper lip from our British ancestors and adopted the American adage that big boys, and in this egalitarian age big girls, don't cry. So should we hold our tears back or let them flow?
Sometimes I need to cry
I'd already been a parent for 15 years when my fourth daughter came along. I didn't know I was doing it all wrong. When Christie, Ashley, or Emily got hurt and cried, my response was typical. "There, there, don't cry," I would say.
That didn't work on Courtney Grace. She began speaking her mind as soon as she learned to talk. If you tried to comfort her by telling her not to cry, she'd stomp her feet and look you in the eye and say, "Sometimes I need to cry!"
She was right. I think Lazarus' sisters and the Lord Jesus Christ would agree. Just look at all the tears in this text. Even "Jesus wept." Sometimes, even God needs to cry.
There are good reasons to cry
Death is not final for Christ followers, but death is still a proper, legitimate, and biblical reason to cry. We cry when we lose someone we love, because of the unspecified lost time we will experience without them. We miss their smile, fellowship, giftedness, good works, and more. These are good reasons to cry.
Death and lost time hurt. And here is what the pain, the loss, and the tears are all about. Life and death are about relationship, covenant, community. God did not create us to be alone. He created us for a covenant with Him, relationships with one another, and fellowship together on earth, as it is in Heaven. And when that relationship is broken, even temporarily for true believers, it is a sharp pain, it is great loss, and it is crying time, for good reasons.
So while there are good reasons to cry, and to observe why even God cried in this episode, there is also a reminder while we are living to cherish our God-ordained relationships, for this is what we are made for. Hold on to the Lord, your church family, your family and friends. Be true to covenant and relationship, so much so that it will hurt deeply if they are broken, even temporarily, by death. And know that when death happens, God is there.
God's responds when we cry
Through eyes of tears, there is wonderful news to read in this story. When we cry the most, when we hurt the deepest, God is always there to help, comfort, and guide us.
Jesus comforted Lazarus' family with His presence. He did not send flowers or a card, as appropriate as that might be in certain circumstances. He did not video chat, since COVID-19 was not the culprit that took Lazarus. He showed up, in person, and what a difference it made when the family saw Jesus' smiling, and crying, face.
Jesus comforted Lazarus' family with His word. Sometimes words aren't necessary. That's where Job's friends blew it, they should have shown up and shut up. But Jesus shared vital, gospel words with Lazarus' family even before the big event of the resurrection. The greatest words you can ever share with anyone anytime, especially in times of death and sorrow, are words that communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are times when we need to cry. When we do, God is there, in Spirit and in word. So when someone you love is crying, don't be the dumb parent I once was. Go to them, tell them it is OK, say "Sometimes I need to cry," and weep with them until the Lord wipes away the tears.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs. He is a graduate of Valdosta State University, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has served churches in Arkansas and Georgia, and preached the gospel across the United States and other countries. Email him at [email protected]