By Molly Riley
This winter’s narrative Bible study taught me to listen to scripture and attend to its details in a new way. Each week we listened to a different story from the Gospels about Jesus’ encounters with women. We learned to paint the setting in our minds as we listened, discussed the details of each story together, and then in pairs practiced telling the stories ourselves.
On our second-to-last meeting we retold all the stories we’d studied, each person telling one or two until all had been recounted. That night I told the story from John 11 of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus with Martha and Mary.
Jesus’ humanity and compassion stood out to me as I learned the story of Jesus raising Lazarus. Not long after Lazarus’ death, Jesus would conquer death itself with his own rising. And yet in this scene he wept, “moved in his spirit” by the tears of others. Perhaps troubled, too, at the sight of the tomb and its heavy reality.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. – John 11:33-35
For our last meeting, right after Easter, we were encouraged to consider the resurrection accounts in the Gospels and then bring either a story or reflection to share. (The reflection I shared at our meeting is below.) I turned to John’s account first, having practiced telling a story from John the week before.
At his own tomb, where Mary Magdalene stands weeping as John recounts it, Jesus doesn’t weep with his friend this time. He also doesn’t seem to shun her tears; he doesn’t tell her to stop crying. But he does prod with a question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” – John 20:11-15a
As I read the resurrection story in John 20, I had something like a flashback to the scene at Lazarus’ tomb, the parallels, and yet stark differences, in those two scenes glaring in ways I’d never considered. Jesus cried at Lazarus’ tomb. In his resurrected body, he did not cry at his own.
On Easter morning, I listened to our Old Testament reading in a new way, too. It reminded us what has always been promised, and what will one day come true: that tears and tombs will meet an end.
He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. – Isaiah 25:8
Led by mourners, Jesus faced Lazarus’ tomb,
the sorrow of death their other companion,
friends’ tears moving his own.
Already he was bearing our heavy human loads,
the weight of death stinging with its forced separation and assault of loneliness.
So near to our sorrows he bore them on his own tear-stained face.
And then he called Lazarus out.
Another tomb was not far off, got at through more heaviness and separation.
Jesus went to his tomb alone.
But when the mourners came he no longer cried with them.
His questions about their tears an invitation to dry them.
All our temporary tears have a promised end.
Death is destroyed and swallowed up.
No longer will faces glisten for tears,
but faces will shine, gleam with brilliance,
faces will be radiant
not in tear-stained sorrow
but in irrevocable joy.