What can a person say to someone whose loved one has just died?
Before Diane died, I had never thought much about this question. I would choose from among my small collection of pat phrases the one that I thought most helpful to the situation, sort of like rummaging through the fishing box for the best lure. In my defense I can at least say that I have never used “for a Christian, dying is like graduation.” True for the dead person, but for the family it’s more like Tevye sending his daughter off to Siberia. Especially when one of those family members had been hoping for Mom to witness his upcoming high school graduation.
Sometimes, like Martha, I need to hear truth. Martha accuses Jesus, “Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died.” Her unspoken challenge of “why!?” rings loud and clear. To her need for answers, Jesus speaks challenging truth: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Sometimes, I just need to know someone listens and cares. When Jesus saw Martha’s sister Mary weeping, he saw that her questions weren’t really looking for his answers, right then anyway. She needed comfort. So when she wept, "Jesus wept."
Thank you to Christian Courtemanche of Jericho Congregational Church for sharing the above insight about the Lazarus story with our Sunday School class several months ago. As Solomon wrote, to everything there is a season, a time to weep and a time to speak. In the presence of grieving friends, Jesus knew when to speak, and when to weep. Holy Spirit, give me such insight into the hearts of the hurting.