Sermon Lent 5A – JESUS WEPT by Rev John Sovereign
I remember listening to Archbishop Wright preach on the two words, “Jesus wept.” I was 13 at the time. This is the shortest verse in the Bible. I don’t remember all the words he used, but I remember the gist – Wright spoke about a God who feels our sorrow – “not a sparrow falls to the ground,” Jesus says, ”apart from the will of his Father.” (Matthew 10:29) The road from Palm Sunday to Good Friday shows us the depth of God’s love for humanity – Jesus taking a path no being could ever want to take – and taking it for our sake. Jesus, out of sorrow and compassion, rescuing you and me.
Jesus wept. He wept because death has such a hold on human life – he wept because Lazarus, whom Jesus loved, had died – Jesus wept with the burning grief of a friend losing a friend. Jesus wept because death is hurting the world.
Jesus wept. He wept because Mary and Martha were heart broken – their brother whom they loved was dead, and they could not be comforted. Lazarus gone, leaving a hole in their hearts and a gaping wound in their world. Jesus wept in sorrow because death touches us all with its terrible power.
I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.
Robert Browning Hamilton
Jesus wept. He wept because so few really understood. The Pharisees – they scoffed at him – it is easy to believe in heaven when you are healthy, wealthy and wise. Can you believe as the nails are driven into your arms and legs? Jesus suddenly confronted the Pharisees with power from the kingdom of heaven – and they didn’t like it one bit – because they really knew nothing of heaven at all.
When Jesus saw Mary sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him. He said, “Where did you put him?”
“Master, come and see,” they said. Now Jesus wept.
The Jews said, “Look how deeply he loved him.”
Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.” (John 11:32-37)
Why didn’t he do something about the dying? Why didn’t he stop death in its tracks? Or – Why didn’t death end with the cross? Terrible questions – and God’s answer to us is “Trust me. I wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and I cried from Golgotha’s hill. Trust me – in the face of all your whys, you must trust me. My child, this is the road to eternal life.”
We must ask ourselves, “Why did Jesus not come sooner, why could he not have done something to keep Lazarus from dying in the first place – the messengers from Mary and Martha found him early enough to come in good time?”
Jesus wept. His great enemy, death, was stalking Lazarus – but Jesus does not operate on death’s timetable. God is not at death’s whim. Rather, death is also God’s servant – it cannot withstand God’s power. So Jesus wept, that death would hunt him at his weakest and most vulnerable point – his love for others – and yet he would not give in to death, to serve it.
Jesus wept. He wept with another kind of emotion, too. The emotion of the Spirit of God upon him. The Bible records very few resurrections, and one or two might even be resuscitation – who knows – but Lazarus is most clearly dead – there can be absolutely no doubt. A man like Lazarus is not put in the grave early or lightly. The odour of his decaying body was coming from the tomb – right through the stone at its entrance! Jesus wept because God’s power was about to be unleashed on earth’s side of heaven – not from God’s throne but from here, inside the world, through Jesus – who breathed desert air, and felt the heat of an ancient sun – the power of God working within this world to raise the dead – at the command of a human filled by the Holy Spirit.’
Jesus wept because in this world, many people believe in God, but don’t put faith on the line. If you asked people to describe God, the answers might go something like this: God is omnipotent, omniscient, and impotent – but here we see Jesus about to pull the curtain back on the finger of God – and weeping because so few people ever look for God’s hand in anything. They are quick to profess faith, but slow to exercise it.
Jesus wept with the emotion of knowing what he was about to do – overturning death – weeping as we might when finally our pent-up rage gives us victory over a tormentor. Weeping with emotion at the harm his great enemy has caused, and weeping with the anticipation of God’s coming victory and revenge. Jesus wept for all who were to believe and all who were to disbelieve. Jesus wept for us.
Jesus wept. Jesus understood. He wept because very soon it would be his body in a stone-cold tomb, and very soon it would be his friends who would weep for him. And he would die, entirely trusting his Father.
And someone will say, “Does it have to be this way?”
And Jesus will say, through his tears, “Yes, my child, it can be no other way. Trust me. When the time comes, I will raise you from death too. All who have faith in me will live.”