Jesus and the Bereaved, John 11 by Revd Alex Pease

11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”……..

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” [1]

This week we are looking at bereavement.

In many ways bereavement is the worst of all the suffering that we encounter during our lives. Because it is the consequence, the product, of love.  Because only those who have loved will suffer in their bereavement.

As HM the Queen said after 9/11: ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’. And as love is as perennial as the grass, so is the pain when bereavement comes.

In our small parish, we have conducted over 40 funerals of residents, in the last three years, and then there will be many others – perhaps as many again – who are not residents, but who have died and are close friends or relations of parishioners.

Behind every curtain, in many family homes, there may be those still pained by a loss of someone close and the pain can last for years.

How can we help them?

Well Elaine is going to speak shortly about a course that we are putting on in November and December called the Bereavement Journey.

Please can I recommend that you encourage those friends and relations in the Valley who are suffering from bereavement to attend it.  She will say more about this shortly.

But I want to say something about the way that Jesus responded to bereavement; to the news of the death of his friend Lazarus, showing great sensitivity to the different journeys of grief of each of Lazarus’ sisters, even though he knew that he was going to bring him back to life which happens just after the reading we have just had read.

And I want to say a few words about Jesus’ approach in a moment.

But before that a few dos and don’ts when speaking to the bereaved.

Of course we mean well when we speak to the bereaved and we must not avoid them
despite what can be the horror of their situation which makes it difficult. But often what we say is to avoid our own discomfort at the situation and the bereaved end up having to rescue us out of our embarrassment.

I can remember well years ago finding myself in a lift with one of my colleagues, a partner at my law firm, whose wife had died of an asthma attack in Poland, shortly after the fall of Communism, when the hospitals could not deal with such a simple problem.

It was the first time I had seen him since the news. I looked at the floor of the lift and said ‘I’m so sorry’. ‘Its OK’ he said, sadly relieving me of my embarrassment….

But there are a few things specifically not to say to the bereaved. Kay Warren co founder of Saddleback Church in the USA, whose son committed suicide, amongst others gives the following a good advice:


  • Don’t say: ’I know how you feel’
    You don’t
  • Don’t say: ‘Time heals all wounds’
    It doesn’t – It’s what you do with the time that matters
  • Don’t say: ‘Its part of God’s plan’ or ‘everything happens for a reason’
    ‘God must have wanted him’ When you lose someone you love, it is very difficult to accept that this is part of a plan. In any event you don’t know what God’s plan is, and to say that God always gets what he wants in any situation may not even be good theology  because otherwise there would be no sin – God doesn’t want that….and yet it is everywhere.  In any event, the bereaved will only get angry if you suggest that it is part of a plan.
  • Don’t say: anything beginning with the words ‘At least’, because you are essentially telling the bereaved that what they are suffering is not all that bad
  • Don’t say: ‘He’s in a better place’, the bereaved may or may not believe this and, even though we can, and should be, certain of our own eternal destiny, if Christ is Lord of our lives, we absolutely cannot be certain of any other person’s place in paradise.
  • Don’t say: ’This is behind you now; it’s time to get on with your life’. People never ‘get over’ losing someone they love. You learn to live with the loss, to manage it. Like losing a limb.
  • In summary – Don’t try to find the right words to take away the pain. You won’t.


  • Do say: ‘I am so sorry to hear of your loss’ but say this SINCERELY and not as a matter of form, unlike television policemen
  • Do say ‘I don’t know what to say’
  • Do say ‘I can’t begin to understand how you must be feeling, but I want you to know that I love you and I care and I am praying for you’
  • Do just be willing to turn up with your presence and LISTEN
  • Do be willing to cook, do other practical things
  • Do be willing to offer a hug
  • Do silently listen if and when they want to talk to you, even if they become repetitive or show dramatic emotions, including anger

Jesus’ approach to the death of Lazarus can be seen in his reaction to Martha and Mary
in the passage we have just heard.

As Tim Keller, in a fantastic sermon (which is on line)  Tim Keller Sermon given at his church in New York on the Sunday after 9/11 says: Jesus’ approach to the death of Lazarus is Tears, Truth, Anger and Grace.

When Jesus is approached by these two sisters with the same question: ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ his reaction to each sister is totally different…..

Jesus, the perfect counsellor, adopts a different approach with each sister, he weeps with Mary, because she is weeping and shows great emotion, as he arrives at the tomb with her. He is ANGRY at death, which has come into the perfect world God created, because of sin.
In verse 33 the Greek word embrimasthai is not ‘disturbed in spirit’, as it tends to be translated but ‘snorting with rage’.

Its OK to be angry at death – it is an outrage and God is angry as well, but its not OK to demonise the individual, who may have caused it or anyone else who has not reacted in the way that you had hoped they would.

But to Martha, Jesus makes the arresting statement: ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die,  will live  and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die’.

These are two sisters, it should be remembered, whom he knows very well indeed, from the same family, suffering the same loss, but each are on their own different journey.  It is for them to travel down their own path of grief, not to be frogmarched down a path set by their friends or well meaning relations.

Jesus chooses a different approach with each of them

In Itchen Valley we will shortly be running a course called the Bereavement Journey. Elaine Labram and Mark Godson will be leading this for the church in November and December.

The course enables the bereaved  to travel their own journey of grief accompanied by those who understand and are there to listen.  It is the work of a lady called Jane Oundjan who has been running the course for over 20 years in London.

Please do let your friends who are bereaved know about the course.  It is entirely practical, it only deals with the faith aspects of bereavement in a voluntary sixth session.  So it can be attended even by those who would not call themselves Christians It enables each individual to travel their own journey of grief.

But at some stage, after a course like this and depending upon the individual’s journey,
there will come a time, when despair needs to give way to hope.  When understanding what Jesus means by ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’ will help lead the bereaved person out of the dark valley in which they find themselves.

When that is, is difficult to say, it depends on each individual and their individual journey.

Because whilst, when we are bereaved, we should weep.  Whilst we should be allowed to pour out our anguish and rage at the unfairness of the universe, because we have loved, as Christians,  we should not have to suffer bereavement without hope.

And there comes a time, when that hope can be given.

Not the hope of consolation – ‘things will get better’ – ‘you will get over it’


Not the crass suggestion: you are young enough, you can find another husband/wife/have another baby


Not just taking the Bereaved out of the situation they are in to an nice fluffy heaven in the clouds


But the hope of resurrection: the renewing of heaven and earth….the RESTORING of everything they have lost

But what does that look like? Well its difficult for us to picture, but Tim Keller points to the words of Sam  in JRR Tolkien’s book the Lord of the Rings, when Sam discovers that Gandalf,
who he thought was dead, is in fact, alive:

‘Gandalf!’ Sam says,
‘I thought you were dead!
But then I thought I was dead myself….

Is everything sad going to come untrue?

That everything sad is going to come untrue is the Resurrection hope of Christianity. Not hope in the sense of ‘I hope it won’t rain tomorrow’, but the confident expectation of what will happen, based on the evidence of Christ’s own resurrection.

Jesus IS the Resurrection and the Life. If we believe in HIM we can live in that hope



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