Crossroads: Experiences of Grief – Mary, Martha


John 11:17-37

Grief – a feeling of loss or mental suffering due to a loss

Stats about Mary and Martha

• Lived in Bethany; sisters of Lazarus
• Martha was a practical woman who paid attention to details; Mary was more spiritual and contemplative
• Likely that they were financial supporters of Jesus’ ministry

My Story

One of the saddest experiences in life is when someone or something we love dies. I remember the first time one of my pets died. Blackey was our family cat. Except for his white paws, Blackey was completely black, which, of course, is why we came up with such a creative name for him. One summer, our family went to my grandmother’s house for a week, so we took Blackey with us. Blackey was used to being outside at night, but my grandmother lived on a small farm, which was very different from our friendly neighborhood home. So we decided Blackey should stay on the screened-in porch for protection.

Well, one night at my grandmother’s house, Blackey got out of the screened-in porch. That night, poor Blackey got into a fight with a much bigger animal, and Blackey was only able to make it back to the steps of the porch before he died. We were so sad when we found Blackey the next morning. Since that time I’ve experienced the death of many pets, but I’ve never forgotten how I felt when Blackey died.

Death is a part of life, but when someone or something we love dies, we often feel many different emotions. We might also have several questions about death and dying. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable, sad, or angry when someone or something dies, and it’s okay to ask questions. Adults often have some of the same feelings and questions about death.

Your Story

Tell a story about a time in your life when someone or something you loved died.
• Who or what died? What caused him/her/it to die?
• Did you have questions about death? If so, who did you talk with? Was it helpful to ask questions and talk to someone? Why or why not?
• As an adult, do you still have some of the same feelings about death that you had as a child? How have your feelings about death changed?
• When someone you love dies, do you feel angry or sad?
• What has been most helpful to you when you grieve? Who has helped you the most, and how did that person help you?

The Bible Story

In the Bible story for this week, death has come to the family of Mary and Martha. Their brother, Lazarus, has died. But even though they are sisters and probably were very similar to each other in many ways, Mary and Martha handle their brother’s death very differently. Their different ways of dealing with Lazarus’ death teach us some important lessons about how Christians experience and deal with grief.

Martha expresses anger about her brother’s death. When Jesus comes to visit them after Lazarus died, Martha says to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She is angry about her brother’s death. Many people are like Martha—they become angry when someone close to them dies. And it’s interesting that Jesus is not frustrated with Martha for being angry. Jesus understands that it is natural for us to feel angry when someone or something we love dies. God understands how we feel.

Mary reacted differently from Martha. Mary cries and weeps a lot. She may have been angry too, but Mary is mostly sad and depressed. The Bible says that Mary comes to Jesus, falls at his feet, and weeps uncontrollably. She is not holding back her tears. And notice that Jesus doesn’t tell her to stop crying. Jesus understands our sadness. It is natural and normal for us to be sad with someone or something we love dies.

Death can cause us to feel many different emotions. People react differently to death. Through his reactions to his grieving friends, Jesus says, “That’s okay. Everyone responds differently.” Jesus does not condemn Martha’s anger or Mary’s sadness. What Jesus wants us to know is that he is always with us, comforting and assuring us whenever we experience grief.

Discussion Questions

• Why did Martha and Mary respond differently to Lazarus’ death? Was one of them right and the other wrong? Is it okay for people to react in different ways?
• Who are you more like—Martha or Mary? Why?
• Have you had a pet or a family member die? Name all the feelings you felt.
• Does it help to know that Jesus is always with us when we are sad or angry? What difference does it make knowing that Jesus is with us?
• When a Christian dies, should we feel happy for them because they are with God in heaven or sad for us because they are no longer with us? Can we have both feelings at the same time?
• What questions do you have about death?

Prayer and Action

– Thank God for being with us whenever we are sad or angry
– Ask God to give us comfort when we grieve
– Talk as a family about different ways people express their grief

Jessica Asbell is currently serving as the Minister to Children at First Baptist Church of Roswell, GA. She has worked with children in various capacities at several churches, including Winter Park Baptist in Wilmington, NC, First Baptist of Decatur, GA, and Highland Hills Baptist in Macon, GA. She has a Master of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology and a BBA from Mercer University. In her spare time she loves to read, watch movies, and of course spend time with her sweet kitty, Lucy.

Kevin Head began serving as Minister to Young Families at First Baptist Roswell, Georgia, in February 2012. He has pastored three churches in Kentucky and more recently served as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Lumberton, North Carolina. In 2007, Kevin and his wife, Amy, began a ministry-based counseling practice called New Perspectives for Life in East Cobb, Georgia. He is a graduate of Furman University (B.A.) and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Ph.D., M.Div.) in Louisville, Kentucky. Kevin was ordained by the First Baptist Church of Belvedere, South Carolina. His model of ministry is based on John 8 and the amazing, continual grace of Jesus Christ. Kevin and Amy have two children, Jenna and Joshua.

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