MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, April 5th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. WORLD commentator Janie B. Cheaney now on the empty tomb of Easter, and how that changes the way we grieve.
JANIE CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: Jesus wept.
That’s the verse every Sunday-school kid used to know, because it was the one you could always recite during Bible memory drills. Besides being the shortest verse in the Bible, it’s also one of the most intriguing.
Why did Jesus weep at the tomb of Lazarus, knowing that he would soon call Lazarus out of that tomb? Commentators speculate on the Lord’s sorrow at the loss, however temporary, of a beloved friend. Or perhaps Jesus was grieving the wages of sin and its effect even on pious, upstanding people like Lazarus and his sisters. Or he was contemplating the ugliness of death itself, and how the warm hand he had so often grasped, and the full lips that smiled wide in greeting and the eyes that crinkled with laughter at the corners—all that, even now beginning to shrivel on the bones. To stink, as his sister indelicately put it.
Plenty of reasons to weep, but there might have been something else as well. Did Jesus, facing the tomb of Lazarus, consider the tomb that was waiting for him?
When Jesus first heard that his friend was gravely ill, he deliberately waited for death to come. Like Jairus’s daughter, whom he described as merely sleeping, and whom he brought back from death by taking her hand and telling her to get up. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,” he told his disciples, “but I go to awaken him.” It would be his final miracle, or sign, performed so that many would believe in him. In movies and plays it’s often staged as a triumph, with Hallelujah choruses and joyful hosannas.
But after Lazarus was unbound and the witnesses joyfully moved on to make the funeral meal a feast of celebration, I’m wondering if Jesus remained at the tomb, staring into the darkness.
Just before his journey to Bethany, he had spoken to his disciples about night and day: “If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not him.” And . . . what does that have to do with Lazarus?
Perhaps this: that there’s no darkness deeper than death, and the tomb his friend stumbled out of now yawned wide for Christ himself. But. Darkness could not confine the Light of the world. He would not stumble, but kick out the back wall of that tomb—and of all tombs that hold his beloved friends.
There is weeping in Nashville for three beautiful children and three fine adults.
But at the back of the tomb darkness breaks, for good. The Light of the world stands on the other side, smiling his welcome through our tears. He is risen, indeed.
I’m Janie B. Cheaney.
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