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Masculine Mourning

Duccio di Buoninsegna's The Raising of Lazarus
On April 22, 2015

Celebrating the ascension of Christ means celebrating his lessons, his teachings. Demonstrably, Christ gives us a cultural lesson found in the Gospel of John. It is a lesson in proper grieving, with Jesus responding to a sorrowful situation with a typically “feminine” attribute (a strong emotional reaction) and a typically male attribute (a show of power). The attributes are not mutually exclusive to one gender. Jesus mourns with Mary and Martha over the death of their brother and his friend Lazarus before raising him from the dead. This example is relevant today because Western culture allows for very strict definitions of what is considered appropriate displays of emotion from both sexes, but more emphatically, how males are allowed to show grief.  

Emotional mourning is a powerful blessing for both sexes. Often it seems like masculinity in Western culture does not allow men to express a full, healthy range of emotion particularly when it comes to mourning or grieving openly. Television and film have perpetuated reactionary clichés like “Man up,” or “Don’t be such a girl,” if a character cries or expresses sorrow vocally or physically. This Easter season, as we celebrate the resurrection, we also remember the example of Jesus and his female and male followers, mourning deeply for their losses. This example, lived by Christ, is permission for males in modern society to mourn freely regardless of gendered attributes given to emotional responses.

The Example

“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. 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.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in the spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” John 11.31-36, NRSV

Character Review

The mourning of Lazarus in this poetic Gospel narrative involves many people. Each person involved is integral to the story because of their actions. Their actions will be carefully reviewed for significant details.

1. “The Jews”

• Are they all female, gathered with Mary as she mourns? All male? A mixed gender crowd? We don’t know.

• They are also mourning Lazarus.

• They follow Mary to the tomb because they thought she was going there to weep.

2. Mary of Bethany

• Great in faith, she kneels to her Lord, knowing he could have performed some level of miracle to keep Lazarus alive, but clearly does not suspect that he has the power to raise him from the dead.

• Her duty as a woman (and family member) is to weep at the tomb.[1]

• She does indeed weep!

3. Jesus of Nazareth

• He is deeply moved and disturbed by the collective mourning.

• He participates in the mourning ritual of weeping openly because of empathy, and as “the Jews,” point out, love for his friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.  

Conclusions about Masculine Mourning from Christ’s Demonstration

This excerpt from the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is of particular import because of how each character behaves. All players in the story are mourning and accepting (it appears) of open weeping by both males and females. This grieving process is clearly necessary for all creation, as is the hope of the resurrection. Lazarus’s experience is the precursor to the resurrection of Christ, and frequently a lesson about hope and joy. It is also a lesson on embracing the emotional stages of grief.

Severe definitions of what is “masculine,” and what is “feminine,” have stifled Western males’ ability and freedom to be emotionally vulnerable. The illustration of public weeping in this narrative is a powerful reminder to accept the complete range of emotional expression without repression. Contextually, the culture of Jesus’s time seems to indicate some acceptance of open mourning and grieving rituals, and if we are to act like Christ, we should accept it, too. If we are able to celebrate the resurrection, then we are also able to mourn beforehand. Men should be afforded the opportunity to express themselves freely without fear of being emasculated. This is something both females and males in our modern culture need to become comfortable with in order for us to fully express Christ’s love and serve in his name, living like he lives, mourning like he mourns, and celebrating like he celebrates. 


[1] For more information on female mourning rituals for the dead, Angela Standhartinger’s, “What Women Were Accustomed to Do for the Dead Beloved by Them, (‘Gospel of Peter,’ 12.50): Traces of Laments and Mourning Rituals in Early Easter, Passion, and Lord’s Supper Traditions,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 129, No. 3 (Fall 2010), pp. 559-574. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25765952

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