When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. (John 11:33-35, NRSV)
This exchange takes place near the end of the story about Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. Jesus had known Lazarus was sick, but had chosen to delay traveling to his friends for two days. In fact, before he set out, Jesus already knew Lazarus was dead.
“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” (v.11)
Jesus has travelled to Bethany for the specific purpose of raising Lazarus from the dead. He’s already spoken with Lazarus’s sister Martha about resurrection of the dead, and hinted at what he’s about to do, but now he’s confronted by a sobbing Mary, as well as the people who’ve been mourning with her.
Jesus, here, has the ultimate in perspective: he knows that Lazarus will not be dead much longer. He’s known it for days. Yet Jesus still weeps.
Does he weep out of compassion for Mary and Martha and the grief they’ve suffered? Does he weep because he’s had an intellectual understanding of what he’s about to do, but the reality of his friend being dead truly hits him when he’s about to go to the tomb? Does he weep out of compassion for Lazarus, who died, sick and in pain, thinking that Jesus didn’t care enough to come to him?
We can’t know exactly why Jesus weeps; we just know that he does.
Well-meaning Christians often try to give grieving people perspective too soon, by talking about the person who died being in heaven, or dancing with angels, as if that would (or should) make the sadness go away. But if even Jesus honored grief by weeping, we should feel free to do so, too. Eternal perspective does not negate grief.
So let’s follow our Lord’s example, and feel free to grieve, to cry, to weep, to be deeply moved by the death of a loved one, by the sadness of a friend.