Relief Valves
John 11:1-45

I’m going to touch on three difficult topics today, illness, death and crying.  Now we all know that those three often come along together, intermingled in some way or in a different order but together.  This is no accident, it was planned that way.  I often use the analogy of tears being like our pressure relief valves, just like in a hydraulic or pneumatic circuit, if pressure builds up too much relief valves are in place to protect the system from catastrophic failure.  Tears work in a similar way for our bodies.

A study by the University of Minnesota discovered that the chemicals that build up in your body during emotional stress can be removed in your tears, and unreleased stress can increase your risk for heart attack and damage certain areas of your brain.  So your human ability to cry is not only therapeutic, but could even be considered a survival tactic.

We shouldn’t be surprised then to discover that there are even accounts of people crying in the bible, today not only mourners following the death of a loved one, but Jesus himself.  What caused him to reach the point of tears?  Let’s take a look.

Today’s gospel is another account in a series of miracles that Jesus performed and were recorded in the Gospel of John, this time it is the account of the illness and death of Jesus’ good friend Lazarus.  Now if most of us heard that one of our good friends was suffering from a life threatening illness we would either call or visit immediately to offer support or prayers.

So we are shocked and bemused when Jesus hears about his good friend Lazarus and hangs around for a couple of extra days before deciding to make the journey to Bethany.  You can also imagine what Mary and Martha would have been thinking while they were waiting and hoping and probably praying that Jesus would come and help them and their brother.  “Where is he, why is he taking so long?”

When Jesus did draw near to Bethany Martha approached him and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Which sounds a bit like a rebuke, but then she followed it up with, “but even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”  This shows great faith in who Jesus is and what he is capable of.  At no stage has Jesus seemed stressed or upset by the whole situation, he knows and has even told the disciples that the illness that has caused Lazarus’ death will be a means to bring glory to God the Father and his son.

Then when Jesus and Mary meet there has been lots of crying, not only Mary but the Jews who had come from Jerusalem to comfort her.  They were sharing in her grief.  She too stated that if Jesus had been there her brother wouldn’t have died, and when Jesus saw her and the others with her were weeping he also began to weep.

Jesus had been calm and collected, almost calculating up until this point where he sees the others crying and starts crying himself.  This is quite striking.  It seems that Jesus’ tears were caused by his compassion for others, he saw their grief, their suffering and he began to weep.  He knew his friend was dead, before he even started his journey there, but we hear nothing of him weeping prior to this point.  Why do you think that is?  He was weeping for those who had been left behind, those who were mourning, not for the one who had died.  Jesus knew that he would bring Lazarus back to life, and he would receive glory and others would believe through what they saw; there was no need to cry, because for all intents and purposes he was just asleep for a few days, waiting for Jesus to arrive.

Watching others grieve however, brought him to tears, he had compassion on them.  We see further evidence of this in the reading we will hear on Good Friday when Jesus is on the cross and he tells his mother Mary, “Woman here is your son”, and to the disciple he loved, “Here is your mother.”  He was giving them a bond that would assist them in their time of grieving until his resurrection.  Only he knew how long they would have to wait, for them it appeared like all eternity, but Jesus was fully aware of his plans.  In three days he would rise again, in victory over death and the devil, just like he was about to raise Lazarus from death.  In retrospect we now know that, but those who were gathered and mourning had no clue.

As Jesus had explained to Martha, he is “the resurrection and the life, those who believe in [him] even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in [him] will never die.”  Jesus knows that there is no real need for him to cry over those who die, because even though they die a physical death, they rise to new life in him.  We do cry though, we need to cry.  We feel a great sense of loss when we discover a friend or loved one is suffering from a terminal illness, which is even further accentuated when someone we know and love dies, either suddenly or tragically or more slowly.  Grief kicks in immediately, and we all experience it differently, but I want you to know that it’s OK to cry, now, next week, next month or at any point during the rest of your own life.  It is healthy to cry, don’t believe the macho rubbish that says real men don’t cry, Jesus was the most real man there ever was and we have evidence that said he wept!
Not all of our stories will have a happy ending like the story of the raising of Lazarus, even though like Mary and Martha we want Jesus to turn up and fix things for us, that may not happen, that might make us angry, frustrated, depressed or worse, but (and yes here comes that text that people either love or are annoyed by), contrary to what we sometimes believe, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.”  We may not see it at the time through the tears and the anger and the frustration, but in time, God reveals his plan for each of us.  The ultimate result of which is that we will all too be raised like Lazarus, to give praise eternally to God our Father and be restored to new life in him.
Jesus knows your struggles and your grief, he weeps with you, and he has compassion for you no matter what you are going through.  Let him be your comfort and strength in your hour of need and call on him as you journey through it together. Amen.