Tony Woodlief | Author

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.

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