I am not a huge fan of the “stages of grief” way of looking at loss. That puts me in a minority among ministers, I think (often the case). I’m not saying this view has no validity, but I sometimes see it used as a way of prescribing how grief should work for most people. In my experience, grief is all over the place, it’s messy and resists definitions. Everyone grieves differently, and every grief—even for the same person—is unique. Each loss is complicated and some are so nuanced that a lifetime of therapy could never heal all the issues that the loss exposed.
Even so, grief usually has a movement to it. Not in a straight line, but in some unpredictable course that often takes us where we don’t want to go—to that place of profound loss.
There is a surprising amount of physical movement in the story about Lazarus. (A long text, read it in John 11.) A messenger goes to Jesus to tell him Lazarus is dying. After waiting a few days, Jesus and the disciples travel to Bethany. Mourners arrive to console the family. Martha hears Jesus is on his way and goes to meet him. Martha goes back to her home to get Mary. Mary and the mourners go out to Jesus. All of them go to the tomb. The stone is rolled back. And finally, Lazarus emerges.
And alongside the physical movement we see the flow of grief and its attending emotions. Two sisters who grieve differently. Many “if only” questions and comments. Reflection about life and about God. Tears. The company of friends who have come to mourn with the bereaved.
What I find most touching in this story is the stream of Jesus’ own grief. He takes his time getting to Bethany. He goes to a place of danger because of love for his friends. And when he sees their pain, that pain goes deeply into his psyche and dark emotion overcomes him. He is “deeply moved.”
As we anticipate Easter, here in Lent, we’re reminded that grief and loss are inevitable human experiences. Even Jesus is willing to risk his own safety to travel and be with his friends in their loss. In that place he feels the movement of grief on his own soul, and he models the strength of faith that allows—no, encourages—deep loss to move through us and bring us to new places.
They may not be places we want to go, but those places, like the people who can’t be replaced, help make us who we are.
© 2017 Melissa Bane Sevier