He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
There was an ethos of joy that was manifested in his simple, slow stride. It was a joy that lasted despite the pangs of senescence—a joy that endured through hardship and carried him as he gently cared for her. Setting foot in that place was not easy for anyone. Family, friends, volunteers, doctors, nurses, counselors, pastors…the vast array of labels and roles that people carry had a way of fading away in the midst of the monotony. You were just there. At times, just another warm body moving from room to room. When there were not activities planned, overwhelming stillness filled the building. The quietness was not normally tranquil, rather unsettling.
But then, he walked in like sunshine. The atmosphere shifted as the greetings commenced. His eyes cheerily squinted as if he had stepped outside into the brightness of morning as opposed to coming into the artificial glare of the overheads in the facility. The way the lines from his smiles remained on his cheeks even after the grin faded revealed a dependability about his demeanor. We were drawn to him in this place where so many people were tragically forgotten. He embodied hope in a way that escaped the general stream of daily visitors.
We were preparing the dining hall for a concert when he walked by. I noticed how he struggled to pull up a chair to the front of his wife’s room where she reclined in her wheelchair unmistakably asleep. He sat and combed her silvery white hair and spoke to her about the day’s events at home. She slept. He pulled out the newspaper and began to emphatically read her the headlines and columns. She slept. He stopped, looked up and gazed at the sweet, soft features of her sullen face. My heart ached for this man yearning for connection with his fading bride.
She slept. He wept.
Time came for the concert to begin and the American folk band started with a fan favorite: the chicken dance—a lively feature for many of the residents to join in as much as their frail bodies would permit. Implicit memory triggered motions, and loved ones observed their relatives engaged with the beat. The man we admired wheeled his bride down the hall and stood in the back with her as she continued to dream.
Then, something happened that we had not seen before in the weeks of our visiting hours. Her eyes opened! She immediately wiggled and bounced, despite still being confined to her chair. At first I was concerned of convulsions, but I saw a look of relief in her husband’s eyes and a beaming smile takeover his face. It was as if the scattered pieces of who she once was were restored again in that moment as the familiar tunes played. She acted free despite the mental prison she endured, and it was evident that he felt that freedom too. The band continued on. “Oh my darlin’ Clementine / You were lost and gone forever! / Oh my darlin’ Clementine.” Once more, another song unintentionally held a glimpse of the outcry of so many hearts in the room. “Bring back, bring back oh bring back my Bonnie to me.” The man remarked fondly at her dancing and she gazed back silently in response not to say a word, yet her eyes cried, “I’m still here.” The silence of that moment held their lifetime of memories.
She smiled. He wept.
Two millennia prior: A man shared burdensome news with his friends, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.”
Jesus was traveling with his disciples when the news of Lazarus’ death reached him. With heavy hearts, they headed to Bethany, the town where Lazarus and his family lived. His feet were covered in dirt and his body was worn from the travels. Lazarus’ sisters met Jesus outside of the village. One fell as his feet lamenting, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And then, we come to one of the most profound and unexpected verses in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”
She fell. He wept.
His burdened soul was not due to lack of faith, for he already knew he would command Lazarus to rise. Nevertheless, genuine tears ran down his face. He was deeply moved, and his soul felt heavy as he pondered their grief. The burdens he desired to carry for them were ones that he knew only he could bear.
His compassionate eyes rested on the stone covering the entrance to the cave where Lazarus had been laid and he instructed for it to be moved aside. His merciful, caring hands gestured above his head as he said, “Lazarus, come out!”
His voice shocked them as his words echoed through the chambers of their aching hearts. They were caught in a moment of unbelief and incredible hope. Not one could have believed what would follow. The dead man came out! His body still wrapped in tattered strips of linen—his face covered with a burial cloth. Could it be? Was this their beloved brother freed from death’s bitter grip? “Let him go,” Jesus said. Tears of relief and joy streamed down their faces.
He rose. They wept.
I saw Jesus’ unconditional love in the loyal husband who cared for his wife as she endured fading cognizance and an ailing body. When dancing with his suffering bride, the man felt the same tension between pain and hope that Lazarus’ family knew too well. Pain as he empathized with his wife’s mental and physical deterioration, and yet a glimmer of hope in her lively response to the music. Tearful hope, yet hope nonetheless.
In the story of Lazarus being made alive again, Jesus told the mourning crowd, “If you believe, you will see the glory of God!” Jesus embraced the tension between pain and hope. He showed them the hope only he could provide and ran to his loved ones in the midst of their anguish. He wept all the while knowing the great joy he was about to bring his grieving friends. Life is not void of pain, but we can find comfort in knowing that Jesus feels the weight of our pain alongside us. Dear friends, I promise that when you cling to his hope, you are never left alone in your suffering.
Though we know that someday our Lord will redeem the pains of this life, we recognize that for a time we must endure. We can trust in that divine love to heal us, shape us, and be present with us as we are being refined through the fire. In light of his glorious grace as we grow in self-awareness, we gain further awareness of our need for a Savior. We were not created to carry the weight of the world nor to find ultimate fulfillment in it, but with eyes on eternity we can find freedom in surrendering our burdens to the only One who promises a true, abundant hope!
Jesus is the epitome of empathy—the defender and liberator who, in being one with our Creator, fully knows us and thus, fully knows the depth of our pain. He weeps with us as we walk through hardship in life and delights in us as we draw near to him in our darkest days. For in those times of darkness, we not only have a Friend to cry with us, but a Savior to raise us.
We can weep. But, we can weep knowing there’s a resurrection coming.