There is a singular closeness that defines the relationship between a brother and a sister; you share your parents—you share your blood. You share a messy and beautiful history that cannot be imitated and cannot be replaced. The loss of a sibling—in both a symbolic and literal way—would be the loss of a piece of you.
We are confronted with this profound loss in the story of Lazarus. Mary and Martha know their brother is dying. They send for Jesus, but Jesus doesn’t come. Lazarus dies. The sisters have lost their brother and a piece of themselves.
When Jesus returns to Bethany four days after Lazarus’ death, Martha is the first to confront him. “Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” A few moments later, Mary echoes her sister nearly word for word. “Master, if only you had been here,” she cries, “ my brother would not have died.” Their questions are mild accusations birthed in confusion, and I understand their confusion. Because I am Mary; I am Martha. We are all the sisters whenever we ask, “God, where were you?”
What follows is a deeply intriguing and mysterious reaction from the Son of God. As Jesus notices Mary “sobbing, and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him.” Another translation refers to this anger in a fascinatingly ambiguous way, describing Jesus as “groaning in himself.” This anger gives way to sadness—and the Son of God weeps.
What so deeply troubled Jesus in that moment? I imagine his eyes as they scan across a hillside scattered with mourners. I imagine him slowly closing his eyes to all of that weeping– and in the moment he closes and reopens his eyes— I imagine he sees all of the weepers of history. He sees all of the people in the ages past and in the ages to come who have cried and will cry “God, where were you?” And then He takes his place in history as one of the mourners. He weeps.
But I don’t think he mourns for Lazarus. He mourns for the weepers. Because we don’t understand, just like Mary and Martha didn’t understand. Martha assumes that when Jesus said he would raise Lazarus He meant at the end of time—but Jesus promptly and clearly revises Martha’s assumption. “You don’t have to wait for the End,” he tells her, “I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.” He tried to set the sisters’ assumptions right just as he tries to set our assumptions right: “You don’t have to wait!” he tells us, brushing away his tears, “You don’t have to weep. Believe in me and death has no power over you.”
After he tells Martha, “I am the Ressurection and the Life,” he asks her a question. He asks, “Do you believe this?” And I think he’s asking us that too. Because when we finally believe this, there won’t be any more reason to mourn. The once laden hillside of grievers will finally be empty.