A young man studying for the ministry was working at a Protestant church as a summer intern. He went over to the chapel one Sunday morning to serve communion. He had never served communion alone before and he was scared. The communion ritual was printed on a laminated card. The service proceeded well until just before the people would come forward to receive communion. At that moment the card said he would face the congregation and say, “Hear these words of comfort from the scriptures.” A blank was there on the communion card so the minister in charge could at that point quote a favorite verse. When they got to this point in the service, the young ministerial student stood and said, “Hear these words of comfort from the scriptures...” And then he went absolutely blank. There was a long pause, and then he blurted out the only verse he could think of at the moment: “Jesus wept.” Later he told how awful he felt about that at first, but then one of the church members, after the service, said to him, “When you quoted that verse, ‘Jesus wept,’ that was so meaningful to me. It made me suddenly realize that the Healer of our pain is also the feeler of our pain!”
As we listen to the dramatic account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead in today’s gospel, we know the ending so well that we may just let that little detail slip our notice – Jesus wept. It is one of only two times the gospels tell us that Jesus cried. And his crying tells us so much, because he already knew that in only a short time he would give Lazarus back to his sisters alive. Yet, in that moment when he saw Mary at his feet overcome with grief, he so closely shared her grief that he cried with her.
During this fifth week of Lent, we have an opportunity to reflect on the deep understanding Jesus has of our human nature. He truly is one of us. When we feel discouraged because people do not understand our motives or appreciate our goodness, Jesus understands, for he was rejected by his own people and accused of being a troublemaker. He understands our physical pain, a migraine that hits us like a crown of thorns; the constant ache of arthritis or cancer that burns like a whip; the weakness that makes it hard to go on because of the burden of our years weighs us down like a cross. He sympathizes when our heart is broken by someone we love more than our self. He feels our pain, for he has known it himself.
And his promise is that we need never give up hope. When Martha said, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Jesus reminded her of the theological reason to go on – death is only a temporary separation, for Jesus gives eternal life. When Mary repeated the same charge, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Jesus responded to her terrible emotion by crying with her. But, it was more than sympathy. He then proceeded to heal the pain of Martha and Mary – he gave them back their brother Lazarus – alive!
Jesus continues to weep – with an abused child, with a misunderstood teen, with the spouse who is now left alone, with the sinner who wonders if they can be forgiven, with the one who cannot find their way in the darkness that life can bring. And he reminds us that we are not alone, and we are never abandoned. He will heal our troubles, give us strength, see us through to the end. And he will heal everything that breaks our heart, because in the end, death and sorrow and suffering will disappear. Jesus invites us today to respond as did Martha, for he says to each of us, “Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord, I believe.”
–Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk