“And Jesus Wept.” (Jn 11:35)

There are times when, at the family’s specific request, the service must be kept “simple.” With experience that simple word “simple” takes on a special meaning for the officiant, and may indicate that the family is very modest in their religious beliefs or tradition, unsure of what their religious beliefs or tradition might be, or truly uncomplicated and simple. Far from saying that there should be no service or no religious or spiritual component, “simple” means uncomplicated.

In this homily, I was teaching on the occasion of a tragic, unexpected death. The family of the deceased were generally unable to grasp anything too profound or too lofty; after all, the deceased was a simple person, loved, loving, and uncomplicated.

So the family’s request was that the service be kept simple. As officiant, one of my principal objectives is to provide the survivors with hope and with some meaning to take home with them. That’s why the homily on these occasions is, in my opinion, of central importance. By keeping the ritual elements to a minimum and prayers brief and down-to-earth, I could make the homily the central point of the service.

My theme, taken from a powerful line in the Gospel of John, ch. 11, “And Jesus wept.” couldn’t have been more simple nor more powerful.

Order of Memorial Rites
Delivered on October 25, 2015
jesus-weptAnd Jesus Wept.
John 11:3245

In our gospel today, the Evangelist John tells us about Jesus’ reaction to the death of his beloved friend, Lazarus. He seemed composed as he approached the town, and when the sisters of his dead friend met him outside town. He consoled them with truth and grace. But then he saw the one sister, Mary, distraught and emotional, Jesus responded with tears.

“Jesus wept.” Just two simple words, and yet they carry a world of meaning for us here today. John 11:35 may well be the shortest verse in the entire Bible, but it’s one of the most powerful, and insightful. Rightly so because it is here that we find a remarkable glimpse into the humanness of the Lord of the universe.

man of sorrowsJesus had His human emotions just like the rest of us. He was “a man of sorrows,” the prophet Isaiah foretold, and he was “acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3[1]). Yes, he was a man of sorrows, but not his own. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4[2]). Because his love is great, he makes our pains his own. But isn’t that what love is all about?

It’s not all that impressive to have a king who weeps. But it is a great comfort to have a sovereign who not only assumed our human frame (Psalm 103:14) and knows what is in us (John 2:25), but also shares in our flesh and blood sufferings (Hebrews 2:14).

We are made in the image of God himself and that same God took on our frail humanity in this God – man, Jesus. And with that, God shares our feelings. And with them, even our sorrows. We are mortal and frail. But God gave us mighty emotions. We celebrate. We grieve. We rejoice. We weep. And we do so like Jesus did as one of us.

“Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh,” writes John Calvin. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus clearly shows human emotions. When he heard the centurion’s words of faith, “he marveled” (Matthew 8:10[3]). And he says in Gethsemane that his “soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38[4]). Hebrews 5:7[5] says he prayed “with loud cries and tears.”

But no one shows us the truly human emotions of Christ like his beloved disciple John — whether it’s love or anger.

Jesus, like us here today, was moved from love to tears. That he loved dead Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary, could not be any more clear than in John 11. In verse 5: “Now Jesus loved[6] Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Verse 36: Even the crowds say, in response to Jesus’s weeping, “See how he loved him!”[7]

Jesus, like those of us with faith, wept. Jesus wept not because he lacked faith, but because he was full of love. He weeps with you, with us, with all who suffer and grieve. In love, he weeps with those who weep. “When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33[8]).

Jesus, like those of us with faith, wept even though he knew that Lazarus would rise. Earlier in John He had said to his disciples, “This illness,” meaning suffering and dying, “does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4[9]). And again, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11[10]). And yet, Jesus wept. Think how often we, too, fall asleep and need Jesus to wake us up.

And Jesus, like some of us here today, moves from anger to tears. But his tears are not only from his love. He has righteous anger at death and unbelief. Why? Because the living are so deeply wounded by the mystery of death; they are wounded because their faith is weak. John says he is “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” — literally he is outraged and unsettled. He is indignant and disturbed.

The same word used here, “deeply moved”, is a stern warning elsewhere (Matthew 9:30[11]; Mark 1:43[12]), even a scolding (Mark 14:5[13]).[14] “ Deeply moved” in the Greek of St John’s day can refer to the angry snorting of horses, and when used applied to human beings, it often suggests anger, outrage or emotional indignation. . . . It is wrong to reduce this emotional upset only to the effects of empathy, grief, pain or the like” (D.A. Carson, John 415–416[15]). And Jesus is thus “deeply moved again,” when he comes to Lazarus’s tomb in verse 38.

lazarus come forthBut he is also “greatly troubled.” Even Jesus is shaken up, unsettled. As he stands face to face with the death of a loved one, he knows what it will take to conquer this foe. This time he will snatch Lazarus from Death’s jaws; next time he will lay down his own life. Both times he wakes us up to the truth — we, too, will rise again!

Our tears puncture the hard shell of the heart, they can pierce our core, reminding us of who we are in our inmost, deepest place. Tears are a “gift” and reveal to us our misguided perfectionism, the illusion that we are in control, the games we play, and the manipulations our egos struggle to achieve: tears tell us the deepest stories we tell about ourselves. Tears fall when we are awakened to realities that had been, until now, hidden beneath our denial and conscious awareness, realities like the mystery of death. We discover something deeply true and meaningful about ourselves when our grief is unleashed; that something comes from our own open–heartedness and from God’s grace. As St Benedict writes, “We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears, not our many words.”

Tears are like a great cleansing river running through the heart of the desert, releasing our sorrow and grief, so that we may return to each other and to God free of burdens; these tears are agents of resurrection, ushering us into new life, just as the river flood does in the desert wasteland.

Your world has been changed and will never be the same again. You’ve had a loss and that has probably changed you forever. But somehow in the midst of the pain, the confusion, the anger, the rage, your grief will remap the world, you’ll have to in order for you to heal and to survive, you’ll reorient the landscape that now seems dramatically, tragically changed, bizarrely strange for you. But you’ll discover God at work in the midst of your suffering. Trust me. You’ll open your hearts to change. You’ll see God at work in your lasting memories and love. You’ll learn that Jesus blends his own tears with our own. Those tears of pain, anger, and trouble will become tears of healing.

Naturally, at times you may feel alone in your grief. As you long for connection, consider that the loss you have experienced has likely caused sorrow to others as well. There is power for healing and love in the vulnerability and pain that you are sharing today and will share in the days, weeks, and months to come. Reach out to those around you who are grieving. Cry with each other, remember with each other; ask for a listening ear and offer one as well.

May our lives be filled to overflowing by reaching out to others.



Please click Memorial Message_LAO to download a pdf of this complete homily.


[1] “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.”
[2] “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering …”
[3] ἐθαύμασεν (ethaumasen); “Jesus marveled and said…”
[4] περίλυπός (perilypos); “he says to them Very sorrowful”
[5] κραυγῆς (kraugēs); θανάτου μετὰ κραυγῆς ἰσχυρᾶς καὶ δακρύων; “” with loud crying and tears”
[6] ἠγάπα (ēgapa); “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister…”
[7] Ἴδε πῶς ἐφίλει αὐτόν!; ἐφίλει (ephilei); “Behold how he loved him!”
[8] “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”
[9] “…3So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”
[10] “After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
[11] “Jesus sternly warned them, “Don’t tell anyone about this.”
[12] “Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning…”
[13] “It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.”
[14] ἐμβριμάομαι, I snort (with the notion of coercion springing out of displeasure, anger, indignation, antagonism), express indignant displeasure with some one; I charge sternly; Strong 1690 embrimáomai (from 1722 /en, “engaged in” and brimaomai, “to snort”) – properly, snort like an angry horse; (literally) “snort (roar) with rage” (BAGD) which expresses strong indignation, i.e. deep feeling that is moved to sternly admonish (A-S).
[15] The Gospel according to John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), ISBN-13: 978-0802836830)



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This entry was posted in Death, Funeral Service, Grief, Holy Scripture, Homiletics, Simplicity, Traumatic Death. Bookmark the permalink.

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