Visiting graves was not uncommon in biblical times, but what makes it applicable today? My life began in a graveyard. While not physically birthed among the tombstones, it is a place God used to begin prying my eyes open for the need for salvation. I was 27 years old and soon to be divorced for the second time. Shame fit me like a custom-made coat.
One afternoon, I felt an urge to walk through our local cemetery. Strange, I know. It was the first and last time it happened. As I meandered around the gravestones, I suddenly realized I was surrounded by names of those who were no more. It struck me that this too would be my destiny, something I’d given little thought to at the age of twenty-seven.
At that moment, two simple questions came to mind that changed everything: So, how do you want to live your life knowing this will one day await you? Do you want to continue living for yourself, or do you want your life to count for something? Less than a week later, I surrendered my old way of living to Christ.
Whether saying goodbye to a loved one or an old way of living, life can begin in a graveyard.
Does the Bible Say Anything about Visiting Graves?
The Bible does mention people vvisiting graves several times.The most well-known account of visiting a grave is that of the three women who visited Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome witnessed His crucifixion and followed Joseph from Arimathea to the new tomb where Jesus was placed.
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb? (Mark 16:1-3)
Why Did the Women Visit Jesus’ Grave to Anoint His Body?
Embalming wasn’t a Jewish custom. Spices, like myrrh and aloe, were used to offset the odor of decomposition, so the women likely went to Jesus’ tomb early Sunday morning to finish the preparations for His burial. One thing, however, was certain—their love for Jesus was true.
These three women treasured their friendship with the One who had transformed their lives. The question of who would roll the large stone from the entrance of the tomb when they arrived would not deter their devotion.
As it turned out, the women didn’t have to worry about the stone. When they arrived, they found the tomb’s stone was rolled away, and an angel informed them that Jesus had risen from the dead.
When Did Jesus Visit Lazarus’ Grave?
Another well-known biblical account of visiting a grave is that of Lazarus. Lazarus’ story began four days earlier when Jesus received word that his close friend was very sick. When he got the news, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).
Jesus enjoyed a close, loving friendship with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Still, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was very sick, Jesus decided to stay where He was for two more days.
I remember reading the verses as a new believer, wondering how love and waiting could happen simultaneously. But Isaiah 55:8,9 rings true:
“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”
According to John 11:17, Jesus learned upon arriving that Lazarus had been dead for four days. This is key because it indicates Jesus’ purpose in not rushing to help Lazarus. Everything He does is pregnant with purpose, whether we see or understand it.
“He waited four days because Jewish beliefs said that the spirit of the deceased would hover over a body for three days, but after that time, the body would become so disfigured that the spirit would not recognize him and depart. In this viewpoint, resurrection after three days would be even more impossible.” (Michael Card, The Parable of Joy)
Jesus made sure that only God would receive glory for Lazarus’ return to life at the grave.
How Did Mary and Martha Respond When Jesus Visited Lazarus’ Grave?
Because Jerusalem was only a couple of miles from Bethany, many friends came to weep and mourn with the family. For the Jewish people, burying loved ones was a time for the community to come together to pay their respects to the one who had died.
Everyone grieves differently, and Mary and Martha were no exception. While there were obvious similarities, there were also differences.
1. When Martha heard Jesus was coming, she ran to meet him. She’s in motion. Mary stayed home until she heard that Jesus wanted to speak to her. She is still.
2. Martha spoke to Jesus face-to-face. Mary fell at His feet.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:21-27)
“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept.” (John 11:32-35)
How Did Jesus Respond to Mary and Martha’s Grieving?
No one knew Mary and Martha better than Jesus. He knew the differences in their personalities, their quirks, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Every indication in Scripture shows us that Jesus met Mary and Martha where they were in their grieving process.
We can follow Jesus’ example and accept that there is no right or wrong way to respond to a loved one’s death (or grief in general). His example also frees us in knowing that we, as Christians, don’t have to put on a happy face to prove to ourselves (or others) that joy and grief can coexist.
How Can We Experience Joy When Dealing with the Death of a Loved One?
We see hints of joy (and even reasons to rejoice) in John 11 that can also be applied to our lives during times of deep loss.
1. “So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick’” (John 11:3). Mary and Martha were confident of Jesus’ love for them. Our confidence in this same truth offers peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:6) and leaves those without Christ baffled.
2. “So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days…” (John 11:6a). The same God who counted out four days instead of three also counts our days and our loved ones’ days with purpose in mind (Psalm 139:16).
3. “…many Jews had come to comfort them in the loss of their brother” (John 11:19). Joy comes in the form of comfort when our community of loved ones surrounds us.
4. “‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:27). Mary and Martha told Jesus that if He had been there on time, He could have healed Lazarus, but both ended with solid statements of faith. “If onlys” is a common feeling in dealing with losing a loved one. If only they’d taken better care of themselves. If only I’d been driving the car instead of him. John 11 shows us that we can say what’s on our mind and ask the tough questions—God is big enough for both. The key is not to dwell on them. Like Martha, Mary, and King David in the Psalms, we learn how to bring healing to all the questions and what-ifs by proclaiming what we know to be true about God—that He is a good, faithful, and sovereign Heavenly Father. Standing firm in Christ keeps us from crumbling when it feels like everything around us is falling apart.
5. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:27). In Christ, there is life even in death; this is our hope and deep abiding joy as Christians.
6. Jesus wept (John 11:35). Jesus grieves when we grieve. We are not alone in our suffering. He is with us, providing comfort, peace, and joy.
What Are Some Biblical Reasons to Visit Graves?
1. To contemplate our days. Psalm 90:12 reminds us to number our days.
2. To comfort loved ones, show respect.
3. To weep and mourn.
4. To renew our hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise it holds for every believer.
Because of our faith in Jesus Christ, we can rejoice in life beyond a final breath. May we learn to grieve with hope, offering a glimpse of God’s glory to a world that is watching.
Photo Credit: Getty/MarcBruxelle
Cathy Baker is the author of Pauses for the Vacationing Soul: A Sensory-Based Devotional Guide for the Beach and Pauses for the Vacationing Soul: A Sensory-Based Devotional Guide for the Mountains. She writes from a tiny studio lovingly known as The Tiny House on the Hill in the Foothills of SC. As an author, Hope Writer, and Bible teacher for over twenty-five years, she encourages women to pause and embrace the seemingly small, mundane moments of their day for God’s glory. She invites you to join her in the tiny house where you’re always welcome to come in and take a seat.
This article is part of our Bible resource for understanding the significance and meaning of biblical phrases and ideas. Here are our most popular Bible articles to grow in your knowledge of God's Word: