Grief + John 11
MEGAN BLISS • JAN 29, 2024
I am no stranger to grief. In fact, I would say that we are old friends. Maybe you’re all too familiar with grief too, or maybe you haven’t quite met. Either way, while how we as individuals grieve is unique to each of us, the experience of grief is a universal one. The Bible shares many stories of humans trying to reconcile and process their grief- Jesus Himself was not spared from this! A few years ago, I was walking through a really intense time with grief and in my time with the Lord was reading the gospel of John. During that time, the Holy Spirit really highlighted John 11 to me. It so wonderfully paints how grief can look for different people and how Jesus responds to us in our grief, meeting us right where we are.
The story showcases two sisters, Mary and Martha, who just lost their dear brother, Lazarus. The sisters sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick and dying in hopes that Jesus would come in time to heal their brother, but that isn’t what happens. Jesus delays, and when he finally comes, Lazarus has been buried for four days. Upon Jesus’ arrival, Martha runs out to meet Him, and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Yet even now, I know that whatever you ask for from God, God will give You.” (John 11:21-22 CSB). A very raw statement of disappointment and grief followed by a statement of faith. Jesus comforts her, reminding her of Who He is, but does not reprimand her for her admission of disappointment. I don’t know if Martha was hinting that Jesus could still raise Lazarus, or that she believed that if He had been on time Lazarus wouldn’t have died. Either way, Martha is often praised for her statement of faith to Jesus.
Martha then returns to her house and tells her sister, Mary, that Jesus wants to see her. Mary goes to Jesus and falls at His feet, giving the same admission of disappointment, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died,” (John 11:32 CSB) but we’re not given any other words from Mary. She runs to Him, falls at His feet, and lets all her disappointment and anger come out in a simple sentence. There’s no admission of faith, just real and raw heartache and grief- and what does Jesus do? He doesn’t belittle her grief or take offense to her heartache. Instead, the Bible tells us He was moved with compassion. He met Mary exactly where she was, He even wept.
When I’ve heard teachings on this chapter, they’re often filled with comparisons of the two sisters, Martha being praised for her unwavering faith, while Mary just brought her grief. What if that’s missing the whole point though? I think that what both of these women did was admirable and praiseworthy for the grief they were experiencing. Martha came out immediately to Jesus when He arrived, she told Him how disappointed she was, she was honest. When Mary heard that Jesus was asking for her she went, falling at His feet with nothing more than an admission of deep heartache and potential disappointment in Jesus’ delay. These women both came to the feet of Jesus, baring their raw grief, not concealing it or even denying it. What if that’s what we’re meant to do in all our grief? Just come to the feet of Jesus baring everything we have, being unashamed in where we are. If we’re all honest, grief is ugly and not a linear process. There are days where I come to Jesus with my disappointments in tow, but I still remember that He is God over all, and both of those thoughts can coexist to me. I have other days where it’s all I can do to get to the feet of Jesus, just to lay my brokenness, heartache, and anger at His feet. It’s those days filled with the heaviness of my grief that I can hardly see past how I’m hurting to remember His goodness, but Jesus still meets me like He met Mary. Like He meets you.
At the end of the chapter, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead but that outcome never changed how He treated the sisters in their grief. He knew the glory and celebration to come, and still met them where they were and even wept with them! I’m not saying that we should or will stay in deep grief forever, but there are seasons where it has felt like that for me. Jesus was faithful to meet me where I was, to comfort me, and when it was time, lead me out of those dark places. He is faithful, friend. Hebrews 4:15 tells us we have a King and Savior who empathizes with us. I am thankful for a Savior who stoops to meet me where I am, and He will meet you too. In our seasons of grief, lets bare it all to the One who catches our tears (Psalms 56:8).