One of my favorite Bible verses is John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Sure, I like it because it’s brief—the shortest verse in the King James Version of the Bible—but much more because it shows Jesus, the embodiment of God, steeped in human emotion to the point of tears. I also take solace in why Jesus cried. His friend Lazarus had just died.
What do we know about Lazarus? If he was a friend so loved by Jesus that his death brought the Son of Man, the Human One, the Word Made Flesh to weeping, we would do well to know more about Lazarus and what his friendship with Jesus can teach us about the sacred importance of a friend.
The prolific Presbyterian author, Frederick Buechner, writes in Telling the Truth that Lazarus “is the only friend the Gospels name who does not seem to have been a disciple especially but just a friend, somebody [Jesus] didn’t have to be the messiah with maybe but could just be himself with, somebody to have a drink with once in a while, to tell what it was like to be himself.” It’s no wonder Jesus wept. Losing a friend like that can feel like losing your loving care when you’re down and troubled, as Carole King might say, or as if a piece of your full self has vanished. I think of it like the friendship between Gordie Lachance and Chris Chambers, the coming-of-age boys in the 1986 movie Stand By Me, where one of them says, “See you around,” and the other always responds, “Not if I see you first.” Without Lazarus, who on earth would see Jesus with the uncritical eye of an honest friend?
For me, remembering Lazarus and his friendship with Jesus reminds me of the need we all have for friends like that. Establishing and maintaining connections with people who see us as we are—warts and all—with whom we can be ourselves completely, openly, vulnerably, and without fear of being misunderstood or unfairly judged is to the human spirit as rain is to parched earth.
One of the goals I had for my recent sabbatical was to reconnect with friends. I called a someone I’d known through years of Christian youth camps that I’d lost touch with when I moved away. I learned in our phone conversation that his parents were in poor health. When I apologized for not keeping in touch, he said I didn’t need to worry myself with that, because he knew I was there, as surely as I knew he is there for me. That goal was not and should not be relegated to a set-aside portion of time. Since the sabbatical ended, I’ve been keeping up with those rekindled connections, watering the dry places that always need attention both for the people who see and love me as I am, and for the ones I see and love without condition as best I can.
God calls us to always remember who we are and Whose we are. There is assurance and strength in that truth for the abundant living of these days. What better way to remember that than by nurturing our one-of-a-kind relationships, like the one Jesus had with Lazarus? Sacred friendships remind us of the truth that no matter how far we might wander from Love, that Love is always there, holding us as we are, strengthening us with all we need, and reassuring us that we don’t have to be anyone but the person God put us on this earth to be.