For some reason, I wandered over to my friend’s apartment that night. Her bedroom had a strange feeling about it--she was reading a book in bed, and greeted me when I came in, but I knew that something was off. Slowly, and with some encouragement, she admitted what was wrong, and spoke of the pain that had filled her soul for so long in secret, and I was overcome. Quietly, deliberately, she admitted what she had long suspected--that I, too, had gone through what she was experiencing right then. I confirmed her suspicion, and then I cried with her, in remembrance and in love, with an empathy that only a person who had walked that path could fully feel. That night, we bonded over painful experiences we shared, and our burdens were lightened as we bore them together. She may have been mourning, but at least we could mourn together.
During a difficult time in my life, I once went to the temple, seeking some peace. Looking for clarity, I asked to speak to the temple matron, who proceeded to put me in my place so forcefully that I can only describe her words as spiritual abuse. To be so violated in a place where I so wanted to commune with God's holiness was scarring to me, and I fled from the temple, weeping and utterly alone.
For some reason, I decided to go up and sit by the Christus, hoping that the familiar words of my Savior would offer some sort of salve. By this point, I had dried my tears, but I'm sure my bloodshot eyes gave away my grief. A sister missionary saw me up there, sitting alone. I don’t know what went through her mind as she sat beside me, but I knew that her words were exactly what I needed to hear. She didn’t pry, or exhort, or even comfort, in the traditional sense. She didn’t say, “there, there,” or even ask what was wrong, and I never told her. Instead, she told me about her life, in some of its most painful and personal details, and then spoke words of such tenderness that to this day I get weepy when I remember them.
She spoke from experience about the love of God manifest in sorrow. She told me that I was important to God, that I was the one He was thinking of right now, that I was the one He was weeping for. That as my heart broke, His was also breaking. That whatever the reason for my hurt, whatever my heartache, He had experienced it all so He could succor me. He had atoned for me—not just for my sin, but also for my pain. She said that He longed to hold me. Once again, I was overcome.
Her words that day, and her gentle tears, combined with her testimony of the Savior’s tears, spoke peace to my heart. Though she didn’t know me or anything about me, she mourned with me as I mourned, and I was lifted. She demonstrated wisdom and empathy beyond her years, and I rejoiced that the God I worship had sent one of His angels to make manifest His love in my grief.
Jesus arrived in Bethany too late. Having taken his time in getting there, He had missed the death of Lazarus, had missed even the opportunity to comfort his sisters in their grief. Hearing that He was close, Mary ran to the outskirts of the town to meet Him. “Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.”
“When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.” Looking out on the burial place, John records in utmost simplicity, “Jesus wept.”
“Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!” (John 11:32-36).
Other bystanders were confused, wondering why the man who healed so many sick people could not bring Lazarus back from the dead. And indeed, Christ would do just that in a moment, but for now, he wept.
I suppose there are many reasons why Jesus wept that day. The most personally compelling is that He wept out of love. Certainly He loved Lazarus, and missed his companionship, but even beyond that, He had perfect empathy for the grief-stricken Mary and Martha. He wept because those He loved were sorrowing. He didn’t say, “there, there, don’t worry about all this, I’m going to bring him back.” For a moment, for a beautiful, transcendent moment, He just wept. He mourned with Mary and Martha and their family and friends, legitimized their grief, shared their sorrows, and demonstrated His deepest love.
When we are baptized, we covenant to do many things differently, to change the way we interact with our fellow men and women, to witness of Christ by behaving as He would behave, becoming willing to take upon us His name. King Benjamin tells us that to “come into the fold of God, and to be called his people,” we must be “willing to mourn with those that mourn” (Mosiah 18:8-9). Comforting those who need comfort is on his list, too, but first, we are called to simply mourn.
What a strange idea--to be commanded, not to bring more joy into the world, but to share in its sorrow! In this radical formulation of our duty, mourning takes on a sacred character. It becomes a ritual obligation, not just an occasional happenstance of life. It colors all our relationships, which must now be close enough that we are driven to mourn when another sorrows, not just to bring casseroles. The Lord commands in no uncertain terms, “Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die” (Doc. & Cov. 42:45). He commends those who noticed that He was in prison, “and ye came unto me,” not, “and ye organized a jailbreak to get me out” (Matthew 25:36).
In the moment before the miracle, before Lazarus came forth or the daughter of Jairus rose, before Thomas could touch the Risen Lord, before things fall into place for us, before our hearts are filled with the peace of God, there is always that moment, often more than a moment, when we need the companionship of a covenant community, joining with the Savior, weeping with us.
When we see our calling in this way, “coming unto” those in grief, “weeping for [their] loss,” and mourning alongside them take on new meaning--they become required by covenant, not just occasioned by the vicissitudes of life. Grief becomes, not just understandable, but holy. And, in this moment, shared grief is shared holiness. Perhaps the miracles, when they come, are made even more miraculous because we shared in the grief that preceded them. Or perhaps, as I suspect, shared grief makes us more like the Savior, who shared all mortality’s pain, knowing our burdens perfectly so He can carry them perfectly, mourn them perfectly, and give us perfect relief.
We worship a crucified Lamb, a suffering servant, a forsaken Redeemer. Perhaps, then, when we mourn with those that mourn, we are the closest we can come to stretching forth our hands to touch the face of God.
Picture from http://radrevolution.blogspot.com