It’s a word that affects our lives daily, sometimes in shallow albeit frustrating ways (I lost my keys, my wallet, my phone, my purse). Other times we use it in a self-deprecating way (I’ve lost my mind, I’ve lost my marbles, or I’m losing it!).
But then there is the loss that cuts us to the core: loss of meaningful and valuable people or places. We can lose our home to a disaster or a move. We can lose a job. We can lose friendships over distance, time, or conflict. And we can lose people to that ever-invasive reality we call death.
Until we are made whole in glory, we will not cease to feel the unwelcome pain of loss. For reasons beyond our comprehension, God in His sovereignty has allowed our community at HCA to feel the gripping pain of loss three summers in a row with the deaths of Janice VanGorp, Caleb Schwab and John Carver: three unique souls who had an impact on our lives and our school in countless ways.
The faithfulness of God and the sting of loss
In each of these situations, we have rightly and boldly proclaimed the faithfulness and love of God. We have rejoiced in lives well-lived which profoundly marked all of our lives. We have clung to and rested in the hope of eternal life granted to us in the death and resurrection of our sinless Christ. We have done this not only because we follow Paul’s admonition not to “grieve as those who have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13), but also because we have needed it. We have looked each other in the eye and reminded one another that the eternal joy we will experience carries far more weight than the pain we feel now (2 Corinthians 4:17).
If we are honest, though, the sting of loss has not been eliminated. The truth is that I don’t want our halls to be without these precious souls. The very fact that they each impacted us so deeply makes the void even more noticeable. Our hearts ache with the thought that we won’t see their smiles again until glory. The absence of their lives alters the very fabric of our community.
Jesus and Lazarus
I have recently found comfort in the story of Jesus when he faced the death of his own dear friend, Lazarus. We know that Jesus had spent time with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. We can picture them sharing a meal together, laughing together, listening intently to the truth that will set them free. John 11:5 tells us that Jesus loved this family. When Lazarus had become sick, the sisters had called for Jesus to come, feeling confident that the Messiah would be moved by the intimacy of this relationship. And he was, but he still refused to come. And now Lazarus was dead.
Jesus arrives in Bethany, along with many others who have come to grieve with Mary and Martha. Although we see in the prior verses Jesus telling the disciples that Lazarus was dead, it seems as though now he is face to face with the reality of that loss. His friends Mary and Martha are there, but his dear friend Lazarus is missing, already four days in the grave.
Many of us are aware that this is the famous passage where we hear that “Jesus wept” (verse 35). Jesus shows his humanity by joining in with the appropriate emotion: sorrow and sadness. If we have ever wondered, Does Jesus care about the pain I’m feeling? we need only look at the Savior standing next to Mary as she weeps for her brother. He joins in that deep sorrow even though he knows that in a matter of minutes they will all be welcoming Lazarus as he tears off the grave clothes.
More than sadness
A new revelation for me, however, is the emotion that Jesus shows in verses 33 and 38. In both of these verses, we read that Jesus is “deeply moved.” I have always focused on the fact that the phrase “Jesus wept” is smack in the middle of these verses, and so I had envisioned the “deeply moved” being an expression of sadness and deep sorrow. Taking a deeper look, however, we find that this is not the essence of his emotion.
Looking at the original meaning of this description of Jesus being “deeply moved,” it is clear that the driving emotion is not sadness but anger. Wait a minute. Anger? Yes. Indignation. Rage. Strong’s Concordance gives us the picture of a snorting horse, indignant with rage and moved to action because of the deep anger rising up within something. Wow. That is a very different emotion than the sorrow he expresses in between these verses.
The object of Jesus’ anger
So why the anger and indignation? Why the rage? Where was it directed? At death. In these verses, Jesus is face-to-face with the enemy that he has come to destroy. Back in the Garden, death was given as the sentence for sin, and the curse has been active ever since. It is more horrid of a sentence than Adam and Eve or any of us could ever have guessed. Death robs, destroys, grabs and interrupts without discretion or consideration of timeliness or depth of relationship, without regard for rich or poor or station in life. It leaves us with feelings of impotence, indignation and, yes, even rage. Death sweeps in without our consent, without asking us if we are prepared, without consideration for the gaping hole left in our hearts and lives.
Jesus, our sweet Savior, fully God and fully man, is standing at the tomb of a dear friend and is “deeply moved” with the full weight of this curse. He hears Paul’s yet-to-be-spoken words that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and He is angry that this curse of death dares to cheat him and his followers out of a relationship with someone they loved so dearly. Even though he knows he is going to bring Lazarus out of that grave and that ultimately he will defeat death forever through his death and resurrection, he still feels the depth of indignation that we all have felt with the loss of someone we love.
Isaiah 53:3 tells us that the coming Messiah would be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Other than the Cross itself, this may be our best glimpse of that. To me, this is a tremendous gift. Is it right for me to feel sadness at the loss of someone we have loved? Is it even right to feel angry? If Jesus could feel those emotions, knowing that he himself was the Resurrection and the Life, it seems that they are legitimate emotions for us as well.
We need to remember to aim our anger not at God, but at death.
Death is the robber; God is the Restorer. Death is the cheater; God is the Redeemer. Death tries to leave us alone and vulnerable; God walks with us as our Good Shepherd, even in the valley of the shadow of death. Death takes cheap shots and blindsides us; God tenderly brings healing and peace. Death offers what looks like the final blow; God says, “You’ve got nothing on me and my resurrected Son.”
We know that is it never appropriate or healthy to stay stuck in the muck and mire of anger and sadness. We cannot allow these (or any other) emotions to rule over us. Jesus’ encounter outside the tomb of Lazarus does not end with his anger and sadness, although he takes time to feel those deeply. It ends with his undeniable, resounding victory! But oh, how I thank the Lord that he stood at that tomb and took the time to weep with his friends and to feel the indignation at the robbery of death. What a precious gift our Savior gives us in these moments, to become “like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” (Hebrews 2:17).