A reflection on grief in the Bible

I wrote and adapted this old post of mine for the recent Service of Remembrance at my church earlier this month. This annual service is aimed at those have lost loved ones in the past year or so. Indeed, we attended during the year of Abi’s death and it was incredibly moving.

With memories of that, two years on, I was somewhat anxious about what to say. Preparing words of comfort for people at pretty raw stages of grief was more challenging than I thought. It’s easy enough online when people seek out the kind of words I write, but to stand up and speak about my view of grief was daunting.

I didn’t want to write something too personal, people in grief need to feel supported not to absorb the grief of another. I also didn’t want to write something too ‘spiritually fluffy’, along the lines of ‘trust God, your loved one is with Him’; all too often I’ve read of people who believe that some Christians dismiss their grief because of the promise of eternal salvation, as though grief itself is somehow sinful, which isn’t and shouldn’t be the case at all!

So I decided to write a reflection on what it is to grieve, and all the gritty emotions that go with it, and how important it is. So important in fact that Jesus Himself openly grieved. I wanted in some way to try to reassure the people hearing my thoughts that what they might be feeling was normal, and necessary, and true to Christianity!

While I was nervous about speaking out (I’m more confident behind a screen where I can edit whenever I like!), I felt it important I did so. If I was in the congregation, hearing words of faith, grief and hope from another person who was travelling a similar journey would mean so much more to me than if it was read by someone reading it in my place.

The words were well received and I felt a sense of accomplishment that I’d done it. The service overall was more hopeful for me this time, and somehow uplifting.

Anyway, here is what I read:

One of the shortest sentences in the Bible comes from the Gospel of John and helps to show us that, despite all that He knew about the glory of heaven, Jesus didn’t gloss over the harsh reality of grief:

The sentence is: ‘Jesus wept.’ (John 11:35)

In context, this passage reads:

‘When Mary [Lazerous’s sister] reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.’

Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’

Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, as He had arrived at his home too late to save him. In that moment, He shared in the unquestionable sorrow and pain that Lazarus’s death brought to those closest to him. He knew that the death was a sad thing for them, but, most importantly, He made it okay to grieve. He mourned with the mourners.

It may seem hard to visualise Jesus, the Son of Man, crying about death, when he knew the promise of eternal life. Yet the tears Jesus wept on this occasion were not those we might shed in empathy or pain, they were tears of pure grief.

Jesus wept.

Jesus felt the gut-wrenching sorrow, the sadness of losing a friend, the sadness of others, which caused tears of grief to fall from his eyes and likely his stomach to churn and his heart to ache. He felt it all.

Belief in the promise of eternal life in heaven can be a comfort to us at times of loss, but that doesn’t mean that our sorrow isn’t real or isn’t meaningful. After all, it is not spiritual to put a happy face on a sad thing. Jesus knew we had to die and he felt the sorrow of parting just as we do.

Jesus showed us that death is a time for grief; we mourn … alone, with Him, with family, friends and strangers. The sadness of being parted from those we love remains with us always, because the grief we feel is a direct link to the love we have given. And God’s love is far greater than anything we can possibly feel, so it makes sense that His sorrow for us would also be great.

At times I have felt like Lazarus’s sister, Mary. I have prayed to Jesus, if You had been here, Abi would not have died. But, in my grief, this short passage of the Bible helped me understand that Jesus is there for me at every moment, in my most difficult times, my good times and my everyday life. He’s there when I cry; not just as a comforter, but to feel my pain alongside me. This has not always be obvious to me, particularly when I feel alone and lost, but this passage reminded me that grief should not be hidden, nor excused, but given endless time, understanding and patience.

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