Connections 01.31.2016: When Death Comes


John 11:38-44

Death came into my life during the night when I was around ten years old, taking with it a beautiful white dog named Princess. A few more dogs followed over the years, one of which I raised from a tiny puppy; the loss of her wrenched my heart. Then death came for a strong, dear person whom I called Granddaddy. He died of cancer complications at age sixty-six, when I was fifteen. And sixty-six is much younger to me now than it was then. Nana, my great-grandmother, was next. We spent many days and nights together as I grew up, talking the hours away. The most recent loss in my family was Grandmama, Granddaddy’s wife, who died in 2012 of a brain hemorrhage after living her last years full of activity.

Death has taken others from me. Though they were created by writers, they were no less real in my heart. Reepicheep in the Chronicles of Narnia. Leslie in Bridge to Terebithia. Beth in Little Women. Many beloved characters in the Harry Potter series. I wept over their deaths as surely as I wept over the deaths of my dogs and family members.

And then there are the times when death hovers around the edges of my life, taking those I know of but don’t fully know—tragic stories of accidents and illness that devastate a person’s families and friends. I am a horrified witness standing on the outside of their pain and yet powerfully affected by it.

This death that came for those I loved—this death that comes for us all in time—is a mystery to us. We read about it, we experience it in onstage dramas and in the movie theater, we see it moving around us, but no amount of wondering and imagining can truly show us what it is like to die and pass on. We will only know for certain when we go through it ourselves.

But death was not a mystery to Jesus. He was the Son of God, the Alpha and the Omega, the one who was and is and always will be. He knew from personal experience that death was merely a passage to something deeper—which makes his reaction to the death of his loved one all the more touching. When Jesus came to the house of his dear friends who were mourning their brother, he was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (Jn 11:33). And then he wept (v. 35). Jesus felt the overwhelming, mind-blowing, soul-crushing sadness that we call grief, and he let it show.

To me, Jesus was never more human than in moments like this one, when he truly felt life.

Our text focuses on the happier part of the story, when Jesus, “again greatly disturbed” (v. 38), goes to the tomb and calls Lazarus out, bringing him back to life to reveal God’s glory. It’s a beautiful miracle that we all long for in such times. But I think it’s important to remember that Lazarus would die again one day. There would be more weeping, grieving, and mourning over the loss of him. The bigger point here is that Jesus offers something more than immortal life. He offers eternal life—life beyond our earth-bound, limited bodies. We can only begin to imagine it, but the closer we get to Jesus, the more we can accept that it is true.

In J. K. Rowling’s first book about the boy wizard, young Harry has just survived an encounter with the pure evil of Lord Voldemort—the wizard who killed his parents and wants nothing more than to kill their son as well. Harry’s headmaster and mentor, Albus Dumbledore, says, “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” As followers of Christ, we can count on that.

Source: J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (New York: A. A. Levine Books, 1998) ch. 17.


1. What losses have you experienced?
2. What was your overwhelming emotion right after the death, and how did your feelings and reactions evolve over time?
3. In what ways do you think about your own eventual death?
4. What does it mean to you that Jesus felt the grief of loss so deeply?
5. Professor Dumbledore said that “death is but the next great adventure.” What do these words mean to us as Christians?

Reference Shelf

When he comes to the tomb, a cave with a stone lying upon it, he says, “Take away the stone” (v. 39a). Martha replies, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (v. 39). The situation is hopeless, but Jesus has promised that they will see the glory of God (v. 40; cf. v. 4). So they take the stone away (v. 41a). Jesus lifts up his eyes (a posture of prayer, Ps 123:1; Lam 3:41; 1 Esdras 4:58) and prays, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me” (vv. 41-42; cf. v. 4). The point is well put by R. H. Fuller:

Jesus lives in constant prayer and communication with his Father. When he engages in vocal prayer, he is not entering, as we do, from a state of non-praying into prayer. He is only giving overt expression to what is the ground and base of his life all along. He emerges from non-vocal to vocal prayer here in order to show that the power he needs . . . for the raising of Lazarus . . . depends on the gift of God. That is why the prayer is a thanksgiving rather than a petition. (Interpreting the Miracles [London: SCM, 1963], 107)

After saying this, he cries with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out” (v. 43). The dead man comes out, “his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth” (v. 44a). In Jewish burial, a corpse was normally placed on a length of linen, feet at one end, which was then folded over the head and stretched down to the feet where it was tied. Arms were tied to the body with linen strips. The face was bound with another cloth. A person bound in this way, if resuscitated, would be able to shuffle at best. Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go” (v. 44b). With this, the miracle is done.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John, rev. ed., A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 181.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters, and watching television shows on Netflix.


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