Over the last couple of weeks, as we’ve journeyed with a family whose loved one is on end-of-life care, I’ve been spending time John 11 – the passage which retells the story of the death of Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, and the response of his family to what happens.

Lazarus’ sisters, Mary & Martha, send word to Jesus that their brother is sick. In response, Jesus said this sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (v4) and He decided to stayed where He was for two more days. On arrival, after the death of Lazarus, Jesus comforts the two sisters.

As most of us probably would, upon seeing Jesus, Martha expresses her human disappointment in Him and despair at the situation: if only You had been here, my brother would not have died (v21)

After Martha’s expression of disappointment and despair, despite the impossibility of the situation, she declares such faith: But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask (v22)

Jesus honours Martha’s faith and declares that her brother, even though he is dead, will rise again (v23). Martha knew of the resurrection which was to come “at the last day” but this isn’t what Jesus was referring to. He then speaks words of endless comfort, even in the midst of death, grief & despair: I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me will never ever die. And then He pointedly asks Martha do you believe this?(v25-26), and her response is unqualified and unequivocal: Yes, Lord!” (v27).

After this remarkable conversation, Martha calls for her sister who was still at home being comforted by friends. When she sees Jesus, Mary makes the same statement of frustration at Jesus if only you’d been here…. When Jesus saw her weeping He was deeply moved, and when taken to the place where they had laid their brother to rest, Jesus also wept. Even though He knew what was about to happen, and knew the joy which was about to erupt, but in that moment Jesus had compassion for Martha in her sadness, and grieved his own loss too. Far from demonstrating weakness, Jesus’ expression of grief revealed something to the Jews who witness His tears: “see how He loved him!”

As we grieve the loss of our friend, can I encourage you to use the responses in John 11 to guide you through the emotions you feel as you process your grief.

If Only: how can you express your doubt and despair, acknowledge your disappointment?

Even Now: what can you declare with the faith of Martha even in the midst of mystery & not knowing?

Yes, Lord: what is Jesus’ asking you to believe in this moment?

Jesus Wept: how will you express & release the emotions when they well up within you?

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me