Jesus Wept

I’ve realized lately that my patience with bureaucracy and hypocrisy and politics has nearly reached its limit, which is unusual for me. I like to think that as a student of organizations I have more patience with them. But as I lay in bed yesterday morning, wishing it was Saturday instead of Thursday, pondering the immediately relevant portion of Adam’s curse (By the sweat of your face you will eat bread), I remembered that I needed to put on my charcoal suit and dark tie. I remembered that I would be leaving work that afternoon to go to a funeral. I remembered that for all my self-pity, it wasn’t me burying my daughter that day.

The funeral was filled with beautiful young people, a testimony to the widespread admiration for the departed young woman, as well as to the shock of death when it intrudes so early in life. We all watched the coffin carried in, followed by the family, and it struck me how a funeral is arranged much like a wedding. Indeed, her mother had prepared a wedding cake for her, to be served at the reception afterward, since there is to be no wedding for this girl on earth.

We stared, until her father left the group and walked slowly to her coffin, perhaps to whisper something to her, or to pray; I don’t think any of us know, because all of us — or perhaps just the fathers — averted our eyes. Some things are too terrible and sacred to witness.

Her cousin played the piano and sang two songs so sweetly that I don’t think I’ll ever listen to them again, because the professionals who recorded them never sang them as well, can’t impart to them the immediate meaning that he did, glancing at his cousin’s coffin as he cried and sang the words.

I don’t remember anything either of the presiding pastors said, except that the grieving were exhorted to rejoice. I think if I ever preside over a funeral, I will begin with John 11:33:

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”

Jesus wept.

The head trained in theology tells us the one we love is in heaven, but our heart and flesh cry out because she is gone. The heart learns the mysteries of God at a slow pace. Do you want to know what Jesus would do at a funeral, were he again on this side of Heaven’s veil with us? Jesus wept.

Perhaps I didn’t forget what the pastors had to say but simply ignored them, much as I admire each. It was the father I wanted to hear, and for whom I prayed as he made his way to the altar to give the eulogy for his child. He honored her memory and name greatly. I was ashamed, listening to him speak out of a place of heartbreak and courage, to recall that only hours before I had wallowed in my bedsheets and my self-pity, bemoaning my miserable lot in life. Any day we do not bury someone we love is a good day. This is what I was reminded of yesterday.

Comments

  1. Fr. Bill

    Tony,

    It was eerie reading your observations of this funeral. It might have been a description of a funeral ten years ago, for my nine-year old daughter, killed by a brain tumor after 16 months of tenacious endurance of desperate therapies. In her case, none of them worked.

    In an Anglican requiem mass the casket enters as part of the procession, covered in a pall which (in this case) was snowy white, draping to the floor, embroidered in blue and gold. The semblance to wedding dress was as startling as it was obvious.

    When the processional began, our family rose and turned in our pews to face her entrance, very much as one does at a wedding. Those unfamiliar with the rubrics of these occasions were probably confused. Others saw immediately how weddings and funerals have points of intersection. They also turned in their pews.

    I didn?t deliver a eulogy, but I did deliver the homily. I don?t suppose I?ve ever had as much of my audience?s attention as I did then, nor will I ever again. Our family was more or less a spectacle for the parish during the preceding year, everyone watching us to see how we were managing the inevitable and inexorable decline in the little girl, whose health deteriorated each Sunday they watched her make her way to the communion rail. Her last communion, on Easter morning, two weeks before she died, I half-carried her to the altar and back to the pew.

    I knew the questions that lingered in their hearts. Lord willing, I gave truthful answers for those questions in that homily.

    The one quibble I?d have is with the note of grief. Yes, Jesus wept, and so did we. So, I don?t quibble with the ?rightness? of grief.

    But, along with our sadness at the separation (now ten years long and counting), we basked in two blessings. First there was relief at the end of a very long, very difficult trek. ?It is finished? had rung triumphantly in our ears from the moment of her death. Her death truly signaled a victory, a finish-line crossed. Death had been reduced to a mere mark in time. And, beyond it an eternity with death receding in the rear-view mirror.

    Second, it was triumph because each of us had crossed the finish line with our faith intact. My fatherly task had been to shepherd a tender slip of a girl through the valley of death and to leave her at heaven?s gate. Her task had been to trust that her heavenly Father worked through her earthly father.

    In hindsight, it?s not hard to see how we could have done better. But, far more vivid are all those ways we might have fared worse. And, all round us were graces and blessings in extravagant abundance.

    So, we are left with a puzzle we still haven?t solved. My wife captured it in these words, on Cheska?s first birthday in heaven. ?God did such a wonderful thing for us with Cheska, but how do you explain that to others? They just think you?re crazy.?

  2. Jim V.

    Interesting “coincidence.” I was reading in Ecclesiastes yesterday trying to find comfort for some difficulty I find myself in at this time. What I read may bring some godly wisdom to you:

    “Consider what God has done:
    Who can straighten
    what He has made crooked?
    When times are good, be happy;
    but when times are bad, consider:
    God has made the one
    as well as the other.”
    — Eccl. 7:13-14 (NIV)

    Being a man who recognizes sovereign grace I can find comfort in this. It seems that God brings the grief not only to remind us of the fallen nature of this world and to put our own troubles in perspective; but, I believe, primarily to remind us of the brevity of this life and to make us long for the life to come. All to His glory.

    Blessings to you.

  3. foquartets

    A most profound verse.I have always thought that the Gospel and Jesus’ mission were summarized in those two words, “Jesus wept” . It shows Jesus’ humanity and it tells why he came. Death was not meant to be, but because of sin it came. Jesus came that we might have a way out of death to life eternal. Thanks for seeing what I saw and expressing it so well.

  4. Paul Green

    Do you think that, maybe, Jesus wept-not for Lazarus, but for Mary and Martha? I believe He wept because, even after all they’d seen in their time with Him, the devotion and trust they placed in him, when facing their own adversity, their own situation, they still built boundaries around the problem-boundaries shaped by the limitations of their frail, human minds. Boundaries that said, “If you’d only been here, Jesus,” not recognizing that He WAS there.

    I wonder: how often do you think He weeps over us-when we see the situation through eyes that can see no further than our feeble minds can think; when we choose not to believe-to trust-that despite the limitations of our vision, of our imaginations, the scope of the situation is still within the range of operations for Him?

  5. Danielle

    I love it when you write like this. There is a certain mood–a certain feeling. It’s like in that moment you take a little ‘snapshot’ of the inside of your head and xerox it on to paper. It’s very real and honest and relatable and why I keep coming back for more.

Comments are closed.