Lord, if you had been here

If you had been here, my brother would not have died.

Jesus wept.

John 11

In a breaking of bread meeting recently, a brother brought up John 11. Before the meeting began, there was an audible murmur as various ones discussed the sudden death of a young man related to many in our assembly.

In my mind I thought, “what a perfect passage for our grief today” Except, the brother did not read from the Lazarus part. He read the verses about the high priest’s prophecy.

Frankly, I was a bit annoyed. Here is this elephant in the room of grief and loss, and yet we can’t stray from our approved topics for the Breaking of Bread in order to address it?

Worship while weeping?

I wondered if it’s possible to worship and remember (Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection) while we are actively mourning a very recent loss? Is it appropriate to take half a minute to address what is heavy on all of our hearts, or should we just keep with the prescribed agenda?

Well, for myself that morning, I decided to park in the earlier passage. To read and ponder the events and emotions and nuances of John 11:1-44.

This recent death was the fourth death in five months tightly connected to people in our assembly. My mom had died in February at age 65 of ALS. Another older (90 year old) woman/mother died in early March. The teenage autistic son of a couple in our assembly died tragically by drowning in late March. And then this young man, age 41, passed away of a massive heart attack in July.

So much loss. So many broken hearts. So much weeping.

Poignant narrative

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother (son, mom, husband, wife, daughter, sister, brother) would not have died.” 

Don’t those words smite your heart! Doesn’t their truth resonate! Have we not ever thought the same thing?

Mary and Martha both made the exact same statement. It makes me believe that in their distress and sorrow and loss, they had talked this over and over. That they knew Jesus is the game changer. That His presence would have radically altered Lazarus’ story.

We know, just like Mary and Martha, that Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life, and He has conquered death. We know, that as God, He was there. As man, His physical body was not there. We know that He is here, in our circumstances-good and bad, easy and excruciatingly hard. We know these things.

And yet…death. The sting. The (temporary) loss. 

It’s devastating actually. I know, I know. We sorrow not, as others who have no hope. Yet, the devastation, separation, loss and finality of death are undeniable factors that reminds us: death is the ultimate consequence of sin.

Jesus wept

Thus, we sorrow. Why wouldn’t we? Jesus wept.

Why? Jesus knew the end of the story. “This illness does not lead to death.” Death was a stop on the journey, but the glory of God was the destination. Jesus knew He was minutes away from raising Lazarus from the dead. And yet, He wept. He was deeply moved in His spirit (greek word is the same as indignant) and greatly troubled. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.

Could not He have kept him from dying? Absolutely. For sure.

Martha knew that. We tend to read her words as an accusation. If you had been here. Uhh! We imply that she thought, “but you weren’t. But you failed this man you loved. Obviously you didn’t love him the way we thought you loved him.

Yet, Jesus’ love for Lazarus was never in doubt. Not by Mary and Martha. (vs. 3). Not by the author, John. He includes an aside in his narration (vs. 5). The crowd was convinced of Jesus’ love for Lazarus. “See how He loved him!” (vs. 35)

I wonder if Jesus looked at Martha’s heart and knew the words as statements of faith, not accusation. I wonder if He was drawing her along in the conversation to greater faith in Him, plus understanding of His purposes that day.

If you had been here

If you had been here, my brother would be alive. (you weren’t, but that’s okay because)

Even now I know that whatever you ask from God He will give you. (you can ask God to raise Lazarus from the dead.)

Jesus: your brother will rise again.

Martha: I know he will rise again in the last day…(but that’s not what I’m asking for.)

Jesus: I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?

Martha: Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.

Her succinct answer was yes, Lord. Yes, Lord, I believe. The rest of her answer isn’t a caveat. Martha believed that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead. That day. If He so chose to.

We read these verses at funerals and we are comforted by the assurance of the imminent resurrection of the dead. 

And we shall be changed! (sing with the umph! of Handel’s Messiah)

Even now

It is easy to read these Biblical accounts and jump immediately to promises and spiritualizing, forgetting the emotion and nuances and layers of the actual event. But, I think it is included for both, actually. For the spiritual lessons as well as the narrative account of what people did and felt. And how they were faithfully and graciously led along by Jesus. 

Today I feel like Martha. As I bawl (in a Panera Bread, no less) while wrestling through and writing this. And I weep as I read it to my husband. 

Even now…two words of unspeakable faith. An acknowledgement of the power and will of God, while also may be not being able to see exactly how the hand of God is moving in the moment. 

I think that as we dwell in the narrative, we see how it is possible to worship while we are weeping. And to be comforted while we are remembering the Lord Jesus Christ. 

This whole thing happened…Lazarus’ illness, death and subsequent resurrection…so that God would be glorified. So that the Son of God would be glorified. So the disciples would believe. 

So we would be reminded of the humanity of our Savior as we read of His weeping. So, we would be reminded of the efficacy of His work…because “I live, you shall live also.” 

Do you believe this?


Lord, help thou my unbelief. 

Bernadette Veenstra


  1. Avatar

    If there is an elephant in the room it absolutely must be acknowledged; how can you worship with a focused heart when all you can think about is the elephant that the others pretend to not see? This is another topic that it seems is ludicrous that it has to be written and wondered about…and yet clearly it does. I’m so sorry for your losses, so many all together.


  2. Avatar

    love this article. Yea, I know how hard it is to focus on worship while I grieve the loss of the husband. It’s been 13 months but grief doesn’t keep a schedule. It makes others uncomfortable but as believers we need to put our uncomfortableness away and help the other person cope. I learned that long before my husband died. God knows our hearts. When I read “Lord if you had been here……..” my first thought was Lord thank you for being there when he died! If you had not been here through it all, I don’t know if I could have coped and wanted to continue after he took his last breath. Thank You for being here now…..


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