“Lord, if you had been here…”, part 1

Bibleanother biblical reflection, based on John 11.32-44, for All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2015

“Lord,” Mary, bewailing the death of her brother Lazarus, echoes her sister Martha,[1] “if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

Through decades of pastoral ministry, how often have I heard this lament, with varied alterations in phrasing? From the lips of the mother whose college freshman daughter, barely having embarked on the next, new phase of her life, was killed in an automobile accident on the drive home for Thanksgiving. From the father who wept at the news of the death of his son, a fatality of mistaken identity in a drive-by shooting, on the very weekend of his wedding to his high school sweetheart. By the son who, after his sainted mother succumbed to cancer, said bitterly, “She never harmed a soul, so why, with all the wicked people in the world, did God take her?”

From my own lips at the death of my beloved brother to complications of AIDS. And at the nearly 20-year decline, the living death of my mother, steadily receding into the shadows of Alzheimer’s disease. And at the recent deaths of a 17-year old young man, whose gentility and loving-kindness I admired and, I confess, envied, following a 9-month courageously perseverant struggle against leukemia and, suddenly and unexpectedly, of a gracious soulful woman I met but a few months ago and whose friendship I had hoped to relish for years to come.

“Lord, if only…” Many cry. I cry.

Jesus, observing the weeping of Mary and her fellow mourners not at an indifferent cosmic distance, but rather in his susceptible suffering human flesh, “was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” This English translation does no justice to the Greek text in which the words translated “greatly disturbed” and “deeply moved” infer soul-deep anguish. In a word, Jesus, in reaction to Lazarus’ death and the grieving of those who loved him, of which he was numbered, was emotionally angry and physically ill; leading to the shortest verse of the Bible describing his personal identification with human sadness, “Jesus wept.”

Jésus pleura (Jesus wept) by James Tissot, 1886-1896

In this, there is good news. Amidst a life in this world that always ends in death, I find comfort in believing that our sorrow is shared by a grieving God.

Illustration: Jésus pleura (Jesus wept) by James Tissot, 1886-1896

[1] See John 11.21

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4 thoughts on ““Lord, if you had been here…”, part 1

  1. Thanks for that perspective. I also find comfort in having known the person whose admired qualities now are before me in a different way possibly reminding me, yeah urging me to be a better me.

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    • Thanks, honey, for your observation, insight. I find what you attest to be true for me, too. It’s the incarnational aspect of our human living, I think, when we find admirable qualities in others that can give us hope that we, too, can embody them.

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  2. Thank you for that good news Paul!! It is comforting to know (or be reminded) that God grieves with us when our loved ones die. As you pointed out, we always want to know “why them, or why now?” The only time I think I’ve ever consciously thought about God grieving was on 9/11. I truly believed he was grieving the loss of so many of his children at the same time!

    One way I move through my grief is to think about what I learned from that person that I want to carry forward and share with others in honor of that person.

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