On death and life and tears and love

If you have experienced the death of someone you love, a parent or a brother or sister or a close friend, then you will know what Jesus felt at the death of his friend Lazarus, and as he saw the grief of the two sisters, Mary and Martha. The shortest sentence in the Bible is one of the most important, and we have it in our Gospel today (John 11:1-45) “Jesus wept.” (11:35) It is important because it tells us how human Jesus was. He knew the message of eternal life, because that was the heart what he came to bring us.  He says “I am the Resurrection and the Life”, but that does not stop him weeping at the death of his friend.

I watched a film on TV this week about the footballer Rio Ferdinand coping with the tragic death of his wife, and how he was trying to help his three little children cope with their loss. He realised, and it was this that reduced him to tears, that he needed to help them; and the film ends with the children writing and drawing their memories of their Mummy for a memory jar.

The Doctors and Psychologists tell us that crying when we are sad is good for us, but there is still an old idea among some Christians, that since we believe that our loved ones who have died are with God, we must not weep for them. This is not true, and we know that simply because Jesus wept for Lazarus. He gives each of us permission to weep when someone we love dies.

But we need to take this further, because when Jesus weeps, just as when he suffers on the cross, we are reminded that God is a God of love. God is not a remote power that doesn’t care about suffering and death. God is rather the power of love itself, the power that supports us when we are sad or troubled, but also the only power that can give life to our loved ones beyond death. If there is no God, then there cannot be anything beyond death. As St Paul says in our 2nd Reading (Romans 8:8-11) it is in our interest as human beings to believe in spiritual things, so that as we trust in God, Christ may give our loved ones, and us, a life that takes us all beyond the death of our physical mortal bodies, and in some way beyond our understanding gives them and us a new kind of life with him.

Love, real love, is a spiritual thing. It is not mere physical attraction. And therefore when we experience love, the love of our parents hopefully, and later the love of a friend, or of a wife or a husband, then we experience God, whether we know it or not. But it’s not just their love for us, it is also our love for them. Rio Ferdinand actually said that it was his love for his little children that brought him tears, but also brought him the determination not to give up on them. All he wanted to do in his grief was curl up in a dark corner and end it all, but the power of love that brought him tears also brought him the power to go on into life for them. He did not say it, but I could have told him, that the power he experienced then, was the power of God working in him.

We heard in the story how strong the link between tears and love is; for those looking on said, as Jesus wept, “See how much he loved him”. It’s intriguing that in the Rio Ferdinand film we were shown one other clip of this great strong footballer weeping. It was at his marriage, as his loved one walked towards him at the beginning of the Marriage ceremony. I always say to a bride or groom that they must not worry if a few tears, fall at their marriage, for tears are a sign of love not just of sadness.  That is why the greatest sign of love for Christians is not even Jesus weeping, but Jesus dying on the cross. If we really love others, as Rio Ferdinand loves his children, then sometimes that will be very hard as well as very joyful. To know that love is to know God. As St John writes in one of his letters : “God is love and those who live in love, live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:16) Only that love, the power of love itself, can defeat death.