Today is Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter (or, as some of us like to call it, “Resurrection Sunday”). On this day every year, there’s a little mental exercise I like to try to engage in as a sort of tradition of my own. I like to try to imaginatively enter into the dregs of despair the disciples of Jesus must have been feeling on that day almost two thousand years ago that this day commemorates.
I don’t know if this little, private tradition was the reason I found myself breaking down in tears watching a show (that has nothing to do with anything relevant to this post) when the main character in it was weeping to herself in the bathroom.
“Okay, Idiot! Why are you crying?” I asked myself. “It’s just a fictional show. She’s not really crying. She’s just an actress. And, anyway, you know it will all have a happy ending.” And I answered myself with, “Yeah, but I’m crying for all the real pain out there, like the pain this character is going through.” Fair enough! That shut me up. Self had no come-back to Self on that one. That’s a legit reason to tear up because of a fictional show and fake tears. Life isn’t fiction, and there are plenty of real tears to go around.
There’s a Bible verse that keeps popping into my head lately, and I’ve now decided it’s my new favourite Bible verse. That’s not only because it’s the shortest verse in the Bible (a whole two words) and easy to rattle off when someone asks me to recite my favourite verse but also because it’s incredibly profound.
John 11:35. “Jesus wept.”
I want to give that verse some space and just let it bear impact for a second.
Like the crying scene in the show I was watching, this verse makes me tear over every time it’s occurred to me lately.
If you’re unfamiliar with its context, it describes Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus. A man who was on the verge of coming back out of that tomb. And yet, Jesus stood at it and wept, knowing full well what He was about to do. Raise Lazarus from the dead.
But that ending didn’t negate all the pain He felt in that moment. He wept for the very real pain and desperation that Mary and Martha, the two sisters of Lazarus, (who didn’t know what Jesus knew) carried due to their (temporary) separation from a brother whom they loved dearly and who may have been their means of support. Jesus wept along with all the other mourners who wept for the temporary separation that is death—a necessary evil in order to escape the fate of living on this sin-stained planet forever with no end in sight and no hope of perfection and a fresh, new start. But still, a natural evil that tears us apart when torn apart by it (temporarily) from the ones we love. He wept for all the millennia upon millennia of suffering and death resulting from the sin-stain that has permeated our planet. He wept for the suffering that we inflict on each other. He wept for the suffering that our sin and suffering inflicts on God Himself. He wept for the death that we inflict on each other. He wept for the death that our sin and suffering and death would inflict on God-in-human-flesh in approximately a week’s time. He wept for the great drops of mingled blood, sweat, and tears soaking into the soil of a certain garden He’d be taken from under armed guard with the kiss of betrayal stinging His cheek. He wept for what was past. He wept for what was coming.
That’s what I see now when I read those two, simple, unutterably profound, little words. “Jesus wept.”
They’ve become my favourite Bible verse because, in a way, they sum up the entire story of the Bible. There is a God. There is a God who created us for relationship with Himself. There is a God who could not remain distant and unmoved when we cut off that relationship by our rejection of it. There is a God who weeps over that rejection and all its natural results. There is a God who did more than weep from afar. He came to weep with us in our midst and join us in bearing all the natural results our rejection of Him had created. Yet somehow, that bearing would be the means of defeating what He bore. Somehow, humanity’s ultimate rejection of Him would turn into humanity’s ultimate redemption. It was the plan all along. (What a fantastic plot the Author of the Book came up with!) He would weep from a cross, using the last remnants of the air left in His lungs to gasp out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” to show us that we are not God-forsaken, however it may feel. God Himself would be God-forsaken so we could understand that we never are. Not by His choice, anyway.
“Jesus wept” is a microcosm of human history with the main weeping-event at its centre, that event that divides our calendar into “before” and “after,” that event that is the ultimate example of God weeping, that event that we commemorate and then celebrate this weekend.
I wept today (a little) not because I don’t know how the story ends. Not because I don’t know that the main character (even this main character) gets her happy ending. Not because I don’t know that the disciples’ dregs of despair would be turned into wild, exuberant, scarcely-believable, over-the-top rejoicing. But I wept because weeping over the process is an appropriate response. John 11:35 shows us that.
But John 11:35 is followed (eventually) by John 20:1. “Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” And we must never forget that outcome. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.
Happy Resurrection Sunday, Everybody!