There are times when two people connect, when the tie that binds is blest beyond explanation. My Great-Grandma Croghan and I were that way. We were as close as a 3 year old and an octogenarian could be. When she died, my family told me she had gone to heaven. I said, "I’m going to miss her so much," to which they responded, "She’ll always be in your heart."
Then, for weeks on end, I would stretch my shirt collar open, look down at my heart and have a conversation with her. Sometimes, I would just say, "Hi, Croghan!" and other times, I would tell her about my day. While this memory for me is colored by the illumination of my family, I can remember the outline of its truth – I loved my Great-Grandma and she loved me. I loved her enough to want to keep her with me, keep her in my heart.
They wanted the same thing – to keep Lazarus with them, to hold on to what was as long as they could. Our passage begins with Mary coming to Jesus with a bold statement mixed with grief and accusation – a statement her sister, Martha, spoke to Jesus verses earlier: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. If only I had called the doctor sooner. If only we had noticed this earlier. If only I had had one last conversation with her. If only, if only, if only.
In my imagination, I see Martha and Mary walking towards Jesus with the intensity and yet brokenness of the bereaved. He can see it in their eyes – they are standing on the precipice of wanting deeply to believe that he is the resurrection and the life – and yet, and yet, are consumed by a grief worthy of the deepest well of tears. And Christ knows that to live with both hope and hurt, grief and gratitude, is a heavy and yet daily burden these women will carry, is a daily burden all of his beloved will carry, is a daily burden you will carry.
He sees the weeping of Mary and of all her friends and the Gospel tell us that he was "greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved." He asks – where have you laid him and they tell him, Lord, come and see. With such an invitation, Jesus begins to weep. The shortest verse in all of Scripture and I might venture to say, one of the most important.
We live in a culture where tears are used as political manipulations or as public displays of repentance, as gendered and rendered to be signs of weakness. To hear that our Lord and Savior, all powerful, all perfect, wept, is quite shocking.
Chris and I kept having a conversation this week about the difference between crying and weeping. Crying is one thing – you cry when you scrape your knee as a child or when you watch that scene from a Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie for the tenth time. But to weep – to weep is to enter a more embodied, since-the-beginning kind of pain. To weep is to recognize the depth of grief and the breadth in which it seeps into every aspect of your life. To weep is to be completely vulnerable to your humanity and thus, to your death. To weep is to fall apart, to fall at the feet of the one who made you, to fall open in hopes you will be filled with a drop of mercy.
And so it is with Christ at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. In John Chapter 1, we hear of how Christ was in the beginning – was the Word made flesh, made to live among us. Throughout this Gospel, Jesus is the "dominant force in every situation…controlling the unfolding of events." And here, it is no different – Jesus is still the Word of God made flesh and attention shall be given to this tender, tearful moment. The Gospel of John gives ink and thus, importance to how the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus is with us in all the sorrows of this earthly life – Christ is in solidarity with our suffering, not standing on the sidelines as a passive viewer or even preaching as to give guidance in a seemingly hopeless situation but Christ in this moment chooses to be with the bereaved in suffering, in mourning, in lament, in weeping.
John Calvin explained that "Jesus cries here because he encounters the general misery of the entire human race. He is affected, not only by the death of a friend and the grief of loved ones but by all the woes that accompany mortality." Christ – being in the beginning, being eternal with God – has certainly wept before, wept for the woes that bereave his beloved children. Christ has seen the suffering of his people in Egypt, of the turning away from the prophets, of the groaning for a new heaven and a new earth and Christ knows that he will see suffering again – what else is there to do in this moment but to weep? To be open – to be truly open, vulnerable, heart open wide – to share in the sorrow of those he loves – that seems enough to me.
I recently heard a lecture that recalled the little Spanish language I had tucked away in my brain. The lecture was on memory – on how memory in the Christian tradition belongs in community. What we remember, we live out here in the sanctuary, in service, in prayer, and especially here at the table. Recordar, in Spanish, means "to remember" and comes from the Latin of re – cordis – which means to pass back through the heart. To remember is to take what was and bring it back through your heart, back through your most tender organ, back through years of joy and sorrow, of plenty and want, of sickness and health. To remember is to pass back through the heart. To open up your shirt collar and say, "Hi, you. I miss you."
To pass back through the heart – to remember the saints of our lives is, at best, bittersweet. It is both a smile and a tear, a laugh and a pain in the pit of your stomach. It happens when you hear that hymn again, the one sung at his funeral. It happens when you pass someone and you smell the familiar fragrance of her perfume. It happens when you walk into the dining room where you used to share your meals and your dreams. It happens when you see that faded picture on your mantel and are transported back to a time so long ago. It happens and the memories we thought were buried deep in our bones suddenly pass back through our hearts, back through to the core of who we are and suddenly, we remember: we carry our loved ones in our hearts. We carry them with us.
When Christ wept at the tomb of Lazarus, Christ was passing us back through his heart. Christ was remembering – was remembering all who ever lived and died, all the pain and sorrow we carry; was remembering the fear of death that paralyzes us, the knowledge of the resurrection we but dimly know on this side of heaven. Christ was remembering us – was passing us back through his heart.
Jesus’ act of remembering us did not end at the tomb of Lazarus. It happened again at the table when he looked at the people who would share the Good News and said, This is my body broken for you and this is the cup of salvation. Do this in remembrance of me. Christ did not say, "this was my body" or "this was the cup of salvation." To be in Christ is to constantly remember and thus, bring the past to the present, to pass what was back through the heart so that it can be remembered and retold again and again. Do this, he said, in remembrance of me. Gather the people. Tell the stories. Break the bread. Do this – passing me back through your heart – just as I pass you through my heart.
I close with a few verses from a poem by e.e. cummings many of you might know. It seems to retell the story better than I can.
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)
i am never without it (anywhere i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet)
Friends, might I carry you in my heart and might you carry one another in yours. Might we remember – might we pass this truth back through our hearts again and again – Christ is and was and ever shall be with us. Amen.
1. Feasting on the Gospels – John: A Feasting on the Word Commentary. Westminster John Knox, 2015. 60. Print.
2. Feasting on the Gospels – John: A Feasting on the Word Commentary. Westminster John Knox, 2015. 60. Print.
3. Ez, Rafael F. Embodied Collective Memory: The Making and Unmaking of Human Nature. Lanham, MD: U of America, 2013. 1. Print.
4. [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in], e.e. cummings, Poery Foundation.