Sermon Archives

Sunday, November 6, 2016
Requiem Mass (Year C)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Jesus Wept

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

“Jesus wept.”

In the King James version, these two words form the shortest verse found in the Bible[1].

The Gospel of John begins with the majestic description of Jesus’ divinity with the words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). But the same Gospel also gives us the two words ‘Jesus wept’ which is one of the clearest indications of his humanity.

Our Gospel reading today gives us a snapshot of the story of Lazarus’ resurrection. The snapshot that we receive today focuses on grief. The grief of Mary and her sister, the grief of the community, the grief of Lazarus’ dear friend Jesus.

Both Mary and Martha tell Jesus at different points in this story: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It is unclear whether these are words of faith or reproach.

Jesus had heard about Lazarus’ illness but did not set out for Bethany until two days later. When he finally arrived Lazarus had already been dead for four days. So when Jesus begins to weep, we might wonder whether these are tears of regret.

But the Gospel writer tells us that those observing Jesus’ tears exclaimed: “See how he loved him!” The Greek word used for love in this passage is not agape - a verb the Gospel of John loves to use – a verb describing selfless, self-giving love.

Rather, the Gospel uses the word philia, which is the Greek word for friendship, human affection, or deep feeling. It is the love we have for our friends; the love that is built on a shared history of connection, empathy, laughter, celebration, conflict and sadness; that most precious glue that keeps us connected to one another.[2]

We know that this particular story ends with the raising of Lazarus, and that might lead us to wonder why Jesus wept. After all, he had the power to overcome death. Why did Jesus choose to experience loss and grief?

Pauline Boss, is an Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, who studies grief. She argues that closure is a myth. The idea of closure is fueled by a powerful characteristic of North American society known as mastery.

Mastery is the attempt to gain some form of control in situations that destabilise and disorient us, like loss. Mastery encourages us to do helpful things like creating rituals around death and burial, or constructing memorials, or putting our grief into stages.

But sometimes that desire for mastery can lead us to create more obstacles to our own healing.

Professor Boss tells the story of a woman who had just had a newborn. One morning her husband’s alarm clock didn’t go off at the normal time, which meant that ended up going to work late. Usually he was at the worksite by 8am and out by 9am, but because he was late that day, he ended up being in one of the World Trade Center towers when it went down on 9/11.

This woman blamed herself. She wished that she had woken her husband up early enough that morning. She was at her wit’s end.

She met with Professor Boss monthly for about a year. Professor Boss remembers this moment from their counseling sessions: “About a year later, I complimented her on how lovely her little boy was. He was standing up at that time, leaning on her leg. And she said to me, “Do you remember that story I told you about my husband oversleeping? And that it was my fault?” I said, “Yes, I remember.” And she said, “Well, he always set the alarm clock. And I realized that, finally. And it wasn't my fault. He just wanted another hour to be with us.”[3]

This woman’s journey of making meaning of that morning, went from a story rooted in blame and frustration, to a story grounded in their love as a family. The reason her husband found himself in the tower at that time, was because he wanted more time with his loved ones.

Maybe Jesus weeps because although as God he does have mastery over the situation, he nevertheless expresses his full humanity in opening himself up to the human reality of love and loss, and the truth that they are inextricably linked.

Jesus’ tears acknowledge the pain and suffering of this life; they acknowledge the truth that the more we love, the more we open ourselves to suffering. And if we try to go the route of blocking ourselves to those painful emotions, it may actually make us more fragile.

Jesus tells Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life”. In Jesus we have the promise of resurrection, but also the gift of life here and now. Jesus’ tears show us that we can be fully present to those we love and lose in this life, and yet also have faith in the promise of eternal life. 

Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College in Social Work, upon reflecting on this story of Jesus weeping, recounted a childhood memory.

There was a tragedy in her neighbourhood – one of her neighbours lost a toddler in an accident that took place at home. She remembers going to the funeral with her mother. At the funeral, she heard that this was not a time to grieve, that grieving was selfish, but that it was a time to celebrate because the child was now with God.

On the drive back home, her mother turned to her and said that if Brené felt sad and angry about the loss of that child, that that was completely normal. Her mother told her: “Be assured that today God is weeping too.”[4]

Jesus’ tears remind us of how real and fully present God’s love is. That same God, who in the moment of loss may seem so far away, that, like Mary and Martha, we ask: “Where are you God?”

But Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, that although God may feel distant, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. Nothing: neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God.

Jesus shows us that our faith is not an epidural, it does not take away our pain or loss.[5] Our faith is more like a midwife, helping us trust that to love is what makes us fully human; transforming our grief into a way to help others; drawing a community around to help us remember that we are not alone; helping us make sense of our curious promise of limited time[6]; grounding us in the hope of one day at the end of our journey, being reunited with all of our saints and with God. Amen.


[1] Bartlett, D. L., & Taylor, B. B. (Eds.). (2010). Feasting on the Word: CD ROM. Westminster John Knox Press.

[2] Bartlett, D. L., & Taylor, B. B. (Eds.). (2010). Feasting on the Word: CD ROM. Westminster John Knox Press.

[3] http://www.onbeing.org/program/pauline-boss-the-myth-of-closure/transcri...

[4] http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/jesus-wept

[5] http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/jesus-wept

[6] “Every Little Bit of It”, song by Carrie Newcomer.