Jesus wept. Standing in the cemetery with Martha and Mary, he didn’t pat the grieving sisters on the shoulder. He didn’t say, “I’ve got this.” Certainly he could have. Jesus knew that in a few moments he would order the great stone rolled away from the tomb and call a dead man from its greedy maw. He knew that this sign would portend his own resurrection and back up his statement: “I am the resurrection and the life.”
But when the sisters each said, “Lord if you had been here our brother wouldn’t have died,” it must have been like a knife under his ribs. He had delayed rushing to their brother’s deathbed on purpose so that the Father would be glorified. But in that moment, before the tomb, he grieved for the sisters and for his friend Lazarus. Jesus did not stand apart from their grief. He entered into it.
On a recent Wednesday, I faced this phenomenon myself: stand apart from the sorrow, or enter into it. First I visited with the family of a man who had learned two weeks earlier that he had only months to live. But the end came more quickly than that. On Saturday he was changing the brakes on his wife’s car; on Sunday he was in a coma. He believed in God, his wife said, but unlike her, he never accepted Jesus as his savior. She had carried this sad truth throughout their marriage. She had lived her faith before the man and witnessed to him many times. Many people had, and now it was too late.
An hour later I met with another man who had learned two weeks earlier that he had only months to live. He had questions about faith. He wanted answers about why Jesus had to die for everyone. But more important, he wanted to be certain of his own salvation. He wept over sin—his own—and we prayed for his salvation and assurance.
On the way home I thought about the contrasts between these two meetings. And I wondered when was the last time I saw someone weep over his own sin. It’s been a while. I’ve been there many times when people cried over the sins of others, and the impact of sin on the nation, but crying with the realization that their own sin is an offense to God? That their sin sent Jesus to the cross? It’s been a while. And stopped at a red light, I thought, How long since I cried over my own sins and my part in the sacrifice of Jesus?
We who handle holy things are like celebrity chefs who brag about their “asbestos fingers.” They’re so accustomed to grabbing hot pots without pot holders that their hands have become desensitized to the heat.
We stand so close the burning bush that it warms our toes but singes our eyebrows, and we hardly notice the difference. We climb the mountain like Moses to meet with God, and we approach the burning peak with such aplomb that the smoke and lightning don’t scare us. We reach out to prop up the house of God with unholy hands, hardly thinking that others who did so were struck dead.
And across a thousand Sundays in the course of our ministries, we offer up symbolic body and blood with little thought to the lambs whose throats were slit, whose lifeblood drained into bowls to sprinkle the altar, and whose bodies were burned in sacrifice for sins. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sin” is easier said over Welch’s than Red Cross. Strange as it sounds, in the rush to the Good News, it’s possible to skim past the realities of death. It’s possible to celebrate the Cross without mourning the blood dripping from God’s Ultimate Sacrifice. If we are not careful, all this handling of holy things becomes routine.
Even when we are careful.
Before we rush to the joys of Resurrection Sunday, let’s stop first at the reality of Crucifixion Friday. With sorrowful John and the weeping Marys at the foot of the Cross, let’s consider our own complicity, and enter in.
Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.