Good grief

In a famous scene in John 11, Jesus met his friends Mary and Martha outside the tomb of their brother Lazarus. Jesus knew what he was going to do. He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.

Two times, John tells us, Jesus was “deeply moved.”

The Greek word is embrimauomai. Matthew and Mark use the same word to mean “sternly warn” or “harshly rebuke.”

How can it also be used to describe Jesus in that moment?

Instead of being gleeful that he was about to raise his friend—vindicating his ministry and proving that he was one with God—Jesus was angry.

If death is “natural,” as some say, why are we in agony when we lose a loved one?

The only explanation is that Jesus—better than anyone who ever lived—knew how awful death really was. He didn’t create us to get sick, get old, get into accidents, and die. Death is a violation of the created order.

Three times John tells us that other people were present, having come to comfort Mary and Martha in their grief.

Simply being present is one of the most important ways that we help others process their grief. Yet for the last year and a half, much of our ability to process our grief has been limited by the pandemic.

In our Sunday, October 31st worship service we will offer up our prayers for our loved ones, especially those taken from us during the time when we weren’t able to be fully present for each other.

If you would like the name of your loved one to be part of the service, prayed over, and listed in the bulletin, please let us know. Call the church office at 412-471-3436 or email Hannah Durant at

In raising his friend Lazarus from the dead, Jesus set in motion the final events that led to the cross. Jesus doesn’t save us from suffering so much as he walks with us in suffering. And we do know this:

Jesus hates tombs. He didn’t stay in his own tomb very long.

He doesn’t want us to stay in ours either.

Going back in

How many times do you keep going back into danger?

How many narrow escapes can one person have?

I wonder if questions like that went through the minds of Jesus’ disciples. A series of controversies with religious leaders had come to a climax when the leaders picked up stones to stone Jesus. Somehow, Jesus slipped away before the stones started flying.

That sort of narrow escape seemed to be happening to Jesus more and more.

What if the next escape attempt became one too many?

Jesus and the disciples retreated to safer territory on the far side of the Jordan.

But soon a cryptic message arrived, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” That was all. No request. Not even, “Please come quickly!”

Of course, the request was from Mary and Martha, on behalf of their sick brother Lazarus. Jesus loved them and they loved him. It was as if Mary and Martha didn’t need to say anything else. If you know Jesus, you know he always does more than we ask or imagine.

But then Jesus waited two days. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived in Bethany, back across the Jordan, where the leaders wanted Jesus dead. Healing Lazarus meant going back into danger.

“This sickness will not end in death,” Jesus told his disciples.

Of course he was right, but not in the way anyone imagined.

Lazarus’ sickness led to his death, but things didn’t end there.

Lazarus went through death into life.

And that’s what happened to Jesus too. Bringing Lazarus back to life set in motion the events that led to the crucifixion.

But then Jesus went through death into life.  

We might question his timing, but Jesus always knows what to do, what we need, and what’s best for us.

When you trust in Jesus Christ, sickness and death become things you go through into life.

Just do something?

Presbyterian pastor and author Rodger Nishioka told of stopping at a grocery store to buy milk after flying in one night from a speaking engagement. It was late, Rodger was tired, there was only one cashier, and the woman in line ahead of him was short of cash. She was sorting through her groceries trying to decide what she could afford. 

“How much does she need?” Rodger asked the cashier, as he made up the difference.

As the woman started to leave, she turned to Rodger and said, “You didn’t even ask me my name.”   

Bless Rodger for telling this story on himself.

Was he helping the woman, or was he solving a problem so he could get home to bed?

What if the answer has cosmic consequences?

The preaching text this week is Jesus’ parable of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus from Luke 16. In all of Jesus’ parables, he’s the only character with a name.

It means “the one God helps.”

In the parable, the rich man lived in luxury while the poor man had nothing. Lazarus longed to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table, but the man gave him nothing. Then the rich man died and went to hell and was in agony. Looking up to heaven, he saw Lazarus resting in comfort next to Abraham. He pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers that hell was real. Abraham said that people have had all the warning they were going to get. They wouldn’t believe “even if someone rises from the dead.”

So, what’s the lesson? Help the poor or you’re going to hell?

I don’t think so.

A better question might be, why help the poor?

Why do justice? Why fight racism?

In the midst of multiple crises today, it’s easy to feel helpless. In our desire to “just do something” it’s tempting to latch on to any cause, any movement, that might feel right.

But what do we accomplish when we abandon Christ and his ways?

Nothing that matters.

When we serve, we have a choice to serve in his name, with his heart and his ways, or not.

There is someone who rose from the dead. He’s bringing in a new kingdom; setting things right, and painfully few seem to believe it.