Jesus Wept

Rev. Donnell T. Wyche – August 9, 2020

Today, I’m continuing with our sermon series on grief, called, Jesus Wept.

Last week, we considered Jesus’ reaction to the death of his beloved friend, Lazarus. In the story of Lazarus, we encountered Jesus confronted by the pain and anger of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary. Together, they questioned Jesus, and his (seemingly) inaction towards them and their brothers.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (John 11:21-22)

Mary and Martha accost Jesus with their anger before he is even able to enter the village, demanding,

Why didn’t you come when we told you?”

Initially, Jesus offers Martha and Mary comfort by reminding them that he is the life and resurrection, but when that reminder fails to comfort, Jesus practices what Walter Brueggemann calls “tenacious solidarity” by embracing their grief and adding his own by weeping with Martha and Mary.

As we make our way each day through the this pandemic and the threat of the virus, we are participating in collective grief – we are all grieving the loss of normalcy, feeling overwhelmed, put off, confused, angry, and disappointed. I am encouraged that Jesus helps us navigate our grief by being willing to suffer with and suffer for us.

Looking at the scripture today, a lot has changed in Jesus’ life since John 11. After weeping with Martha and Mary about the loss of their brother Lazarus, Jesus is now contending with his own death, what grief experts call, “anticipatory grief.”

Let’s turn together to Matthew 26:36-46 and join Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane,

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

40Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

43When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

45Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Some Initial Reflections

There’s a lot to unpack in this story of grief in the garden,

Jesus is, overwhelmed to the point of death.

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

This is a very human moment.  Again, I want to reference David Kessler, the foremost expert on grief to help us understand this anticipatory grief that’s at work here:

“Anticipatory grief feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety.”

If you’re like me, you may have inherited a portrait of Jesus who was born with an automatic, magical understanding of his life. Like an actor on a stage having memorized all of his lines, we imagine that his every step, act, and spoken word were ordered, expected, and ordained. This portrait of Jesus can make it hard for us to see Jesus doing things for himself rather than as an example for us.

He felt sorrow because he was actually sad.

He died because he was actually killed. 

He’s grieving because more than dying he’s going to suffer torture in his body. He’s going to be abandoned and betrayed by every single one of his disciples. He’s going to be condemned by an angry mob of the people he loves with his whole heart. He knows these things not just with divine power, but because he also understands the cogs of the political machinery that has been set in motion around him (and within his own disciples group) for years. All of this was clearly coming to its politically inevitable violent conclusion very soon. As a human, Jesus doesn’t feel any differently about those experiences than you or I would.

So can you imagine with me what the Jesus of Matthew 28 would say to the Jesus of John 11, if he chose this moment to remind himself that he was “the life and the resurrection.”  As the culture says, he would have caught these hands.

STORY: I remember when one of kids received an inconclusive diagnosis at the pediatrician. At our child’s 6 month check-up, our pediatrician noticed an issue and alerted Maria (my wife). Maria asked what could be causing the issue, and the doctor said it could nothing or it could be a tumor.

Yup, a tumor. Cancer causes tumors. Our child may have cancer.





This is anticipatory grief.

Maria called me that afternoon after the appointment. Maria told me that she had to get a blood draw for the child so that they could start to rule out things. This blood sample would also have to be sent the Mayo Clinic for testing. So, this was serious, if U of M was sending the sample to one of the best clinics in the world.

I was scared. And I couldn’t do anything.

I was afraid for my precious child.

I was afraid for the pain that I imagined was coming: the hospital visits, the doctors, the specialists.

I was wracked with fear.

I was overwhelmed.

I sat at my desk in my office, shell shocked, weeping.

So if I can “real talk” to you for a moment, what does it means to be beloved in this moment? What does the knowledge of who you are or who loves you have to do with the pain, suffering, and sorrow you are experiencing in this moment. This is why I’m so grateful for John 11 and Jesus’ embodiment of God’s tenacious solidarity with us, willing to suffer with us and suffer for us.

So any knowledge that Jesus had or may have had about who he was wasn’t enough… In the Garden of Gethsemane, we get to look in on another human moment on how Jesus grieved. This moment, like for Mary and Martha, needed a little bit more than knowledge of the resurrection. It had a very present and felt need. So, Jesus turned to this community to help him shoulder this grief.

“Stay here and keep watch with me.”

I did the same thing. I shared my anticipatory grief with my small group. They listened. They held space with me. They were angry too. They were disappointed too. They condemned a world where a child so young might have to suffer. They did for me what Jesus asked his disciples to do, not to leave him alone in the midst of pain, suffering, and sorrow.

Resolve the tension of the story:  Because I often forget to resolve tension in my story-telling, we did eventually find out that my child is okay. It wasn’t cancer.

One the key take-aways from this passage for me is the need for us to be surrounded by those who can hold space for our grief. “Keep watch with me,” Jesus says. There are congregants and pastors in our community who are available to hold space for you and your grief. We can become listening stations for what you are grieving.

You can call us directly.

You can fill out a prayer card.

You can join me on Wednesdays for the noon-time Divine Hours and share your loss and receive prayer. I will stay on the Zoom after we pray to just listen.

You do not have to carry your grief by yourself, you belong to a community willing to help shoulder the burden with you.

But some of us are just like the disciples and are finding it hard to stay awake.

Let me speak to you: that’s okay. I want to say that this happens because many of us are the empathic people who carry the burdens of others and many of us are overwhelmed. So as you listen to this sermon, if you have noticed that you are concerned that you are being asked to do more,  please hear me clearly, you do not have to do more or be more. Period.

If you notice that it’s hard to imagine bearing someone else’s grief right now that might be an invitation from God to hand this burden bearing to someone else.

Grief is a process and it isn’t linear.

As we contend with our grief, we should be reminded that the stages of grief aren’t linear and may not happen in order. Think of the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) as scaffolding for an unknown world.

In this passage we see Jesus move through many of the stages of his grief.

He’s sad.

“He began to be sorrowful and troubled.”

He’s angry:

“Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?”

He’s depressed:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

He’s bargaining:

39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

This is instructional to us about managing our grief. It’s okay to move through the stages. We observe Jesus move through the stages of grief because he shares our human experience, and grief is universal because it is human.

As you grieve your losses at this moment, it’s okay to move through the stages of grief as they emerge. It may be helpful to focus on one thing you are grieving right now: a loss of an opportunity, job, relationship, a loss of a loved one, the changes that are coming. You might be grieving for someone else right now, you’re a parent grieving for  a child. You could be grieving for a loved one and their collective losses. You may be just at the anger or sadness stage.

Open your current stage of grief to God knowing that God in Jesus demonstrates tenacious solidarity with you, willing to suffer with and for you in this moment.

Here’s a reminder to those of us who are new at this, even though it feels like doing nothing, being with someone in whatever way we can is significant and healing. If we can get over feeling like we should be able to fix, cheer up, or “help” someone, there’s a powerful ministry here. As Pastor Marissa reminded me, there’s not a lot of times in the Bible that Jesus asked someone to do something for him personally, and this was one of them. If it’s good for Jesus, I bet it’s going to mean something to your friends or family too. 

Friends, however, you find yourself, I want you to know that you are not alone.