When I read the raising of Lazarus, it strikes me how I have come to appreciate it differently over time. I have always been deeply touched by what my grandmother taught me was the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” For years I had presumed that Jesus was weeping over the loss of a friend, weeping as many of us have wept over the loss of those who have been near and dear to us. Regarding that scene, the divine sorrow of Jesus at the loss of Lazarus commingles with the sorrows of our shared humanity.
He who is soon to be victorious over death can conquer it, but he does not short circuit it. We may celebrate the resurrection and we may be people of the resurrection, but that does not insulate us from those very human emotions of grief—stages and emotions that Dr. Kuebler-Ross described so well in her important book, Death and Dying.
I have come to appreciate the courageous faith that comes out like an allegation from Martha and Mary, that oftentimes has been the allegation of the times in which we live, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Coming from them, it is a statement of faith in the healing power of the Lord Jesus. He, who gave sight to the blind man could have prevented Lazarus’ mortality had he been there to heal Lazarus. In our time, of course, that statement comes out more as an allegation—an existential cry of agony reflective of what we think of as the absence of God in the midst of crisis.
“If you had been here, there would have been no Kosovo. If you had been here, there would have been no Sandy Hook. If you had been here, there would have been no humanitarian crisis of starvation in the South Sudan, no refugee resettlement crisis of Syrians. If you had been here there would have been no Zika virus. If you had been here there would be no Isis, no Boku Haram. Dylan Roof would not have entered Emanuel A.M.E. in Charleston, and killed all those people.” And so on.
This is the allegation of suffering humanity that on the one hand searches desperately for God, while on the other hand it denies that God exists. This is the allegation of a suffering humanity that would prefer Merlin the magician to Jesus the redeemer. Merlin has a magic wand; Jesus shows us the way of the cross. Merlin waves a magic wand and makes everything instantly better. Jesus, on the other hand, teaches that redemption is possible and that walking in the way of the cross is none other than the way of life and peace. As the human race we might prefer Merlin; but God gives us Jesus. In the long run, Merlin’s results are temporary; Jesus’ results are the well-spring of eternal life.
At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus wept. But the cosmic Lord through whom all things were made and have their being weeps for his friend, but not his friend only. There is the cosmic dimension to His divine tears. He weeps for the human condition. He weeps in compassion for all that we suffer.