A Funeral Prayer
- Gregory Coles
- 2018 8 Feb
How remarkable it is to have a savior who weeps with me.
Back when I was in elementary school, I loved John 11:35 for its brevity. “Jesus wept.” My friends and I would giggle, pleased that we had discovered the second-shortest verse in the Bible. (The shortest verse, as we gleefully reminded each other, was Job 3:2, “He said.”) I didn’t pay much attention to the context of John 11: the story of how You were en route to the tomb of Your friend Lazarus, in the company of Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha, mere days after Lazarus’ death. I didn’t dwell long on the significance of Your tears.
How different that verse looks to me today. Today, as I see the casket topped with flowers that blur at the edges because my eyes go damp every time I look in their direction. Today, as pastors and friends and family members speak about my loved one using the past tense instead of the present. Today, as the words of the hymns catch in my throat and render me mute. Today, as the hope I still hold to be true collides with the waves of sorrow suffocating me.
Today, “Jesus wept” means everything to me.
Today, I remember that You wept because someone dear to You and dear to people You loved had died. Even though You already knew the end of the story—even though You knew that death wouldn’t have the final word—still You wept. You didn’t stand aloof, offering textbook reassurances and condescending pats on the head. You heard the stories, clutched the shaking hands, walked to the tomb, and shed tears of your own. You grieved the loss, and You grieved with those who felt that same stinging loss.
Today, Jesus, I am thankful to worship a God who became human enough to weep with me.
I believe that the world wasn’t made for death and loss. I can feel by the cavern in my chest that something is wrong, that this aching sorrow isn’t the way things were supposed to be. And yet I also believe that You, Jesus, are in the business of restoring what has gone wrong. I believe that death won’t get the last word because You’ve already crushed it and declared the power of resurrection over everyone who will receive it.
I believe that this story, like the story of Lazarus, ends in victory. I don’t grieve like someone without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), because I anticipate new life on the other side of the clouds. And I want to celebrate for brothers and sisters who get there ahead of me, the saints who have sprinted past me into Your throne room. I want to take delight in their delight. Their pain is gone, their needs met, their sorrows overturned, and that thought alone makes me weep for joy.
But knowing the end of the story, knowing the good that’s coming and has already come, doesn’t erase the heartbreak for the meantime. Today, I cry tears that mean a hundred things at once, happy and sorrowful and desperate and hopeful. I trust You to sort them out as You catch them, to hear and answer each prayer they represent.
I cry for those of us left behind, for the lonely ones with hollows in our hearts. I ask You to comfort us, give peace, restore hope, and lavish us with love, family, and belonging. In the depths of loss, meet us with Yourself.
I cry for the legacy this loved one leaves, for the ways the world has been made different by their presence, for the memories that become both more beautiful and more painful on this side of death. And I pray that the work You have accomplished in this remarkable life will grow deeper, wider, and stronger in the days to come, uninhibited by a weak opponent like death.
I cry for those who haven’t yet accepted Your invitation into eternal life, for those who grieve without hope today. I pray for awakening in their hearts, for a stirring that draws to You. I pray for more attendees at the grand reunion scheduled in the coming eternity.
I cry for all the ways the world has gone wrong, and for all the ways You’re making it right again. I ask that You make me part of Your work in bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth.
I cry knowing You are here with me. And because You are here, even my tears have meaning.
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