Pr. Michelle Sevig
November 3/4, 2018
The Gift of Tears
As a pediatric chaplain, and as a pastor too, I end up talking to people about some pretty heavy stuff sometimes. Occasionally there are tears. Tears that are usually followed by the inevitable words, “I’m sorry for being so emotional” or “I’m sorry for crying.”
Statements like these break my heart because they imply that tears are inappropriate, embarrassing or unwarranted. But nothing could be further from the truth. Crying is actually good for you.
At the hospital I’m usually quick to say, it’s OK to cry, your child is sick and in the hospital. Crying makes sense, because there is so much anxiety right now as you wait for test results and a diagnosis. It’s completely understandable because you’re grieving, let the tears flow, they are signs of your great love.
And in my role as pastor I sit with people who are crying because of a broken relationship, a pregnancy loss, a death of a loved one or a varied number of reasons why the tears flow and the grief is palpable.
Earlier this week a colleague told me, “I love to cry! I wish I could do it every day.” But I have the opposite reaction. Even though I’m able to assure other people that their tears are holy and valued, I just last week sat in my therapist’s office and avoided my own tears like the plague-the pain too deep to share visibly with the person I’m paying to receive and hold them in her care.
But here’s the thing, tears—emotional crying—is actually good for us. After a good cry, most people feel calmer and more resilient. In the 1970’s, Dr. William Frey, a professor at the University of Minnesota, analyzed the make-up of reflexive tears (the kind you get when cutting onions) and emotional tears (the kind you get when watching a sad movie.) Emotional tears help the body recover from stressful events. These tears release the hormone Cortisol, which rids the body of stress hormones. Emotional tears can protect us from getting sick and also help reduce pain and improve mood.
So cry abundantly! Tears are a gift for the body and soul. The early Christian desert mothers and fathers had the highest regard for what they called “The Gift of Tears” a sacrament of love drawing out our deep connections with suffering, pain and isolation and even joy and celebration too.
All three of our scripture readings today speak of the loss of loved ones and the tears that flow from all the grief, suffering and injustice of the world. The texts assure us of a day when tears will be no more, because God has wiped them away and ended the power of death and evil forever.
And yet, that time has not yet come and our tears still abound. On all Saints Sunday we remember loved ones who have died. Some of you here today have hearts that are heavy because of the recent death of someone dear. Many of us have our own beloved dead to remember this day, people we’d rather have sitting next to us today and not as a photo on a table at the back of the church. We know too well the acute grief of Mary, Martha and Jesus standing at a closed tomb—weeping.
And weeping is more than a few tears trickling down their cheeks. Weeping includes wailing and lamentation as an expression of mourning. Mary weeps at the feet of Jesus claiming, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died!” And when Jesus saw her weeping and others with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. Then Jesus began to weep.
Jesus wept—the shortest and most memorable verse in the whole bible. Jesus weeps right alongside Mary, Martha and all those gathered together to mourn Lazarus’ death. Even though Jesus knew that he was going to resurrect Lazarus, that Lazarus would be full of life again soon, Jesus was still moved to tears—wailing in a full out “ugly cry” because of his deep love and compassion for his friends .Jesus weeps in an act of solidarity with those who weep; and reveals a God who enters the fragility and suffering of human life.
Jesus weeps with those who are weeping. You and I are not alone in the midst of our hurt, tragedy and brokenness. It’s understandable that we too cry out with Mary, Lord if you had been here…my partner, my child, my parent would not have died. If you’d been here I wouldn’t be grieving the death of my marriage, the betrayal of a friend, a failure at work, the loneliness and pain of longing for something more from life. But God is here, weeping right alongside all of us.
God weeps with us and wipes away our tears too. Not in a “shush stop your crying kind of way,” but God gently wipes our tears as a parent lovingly embraces a child and absorbs the child’s tears into their own tear soaked chest.
And when God weeps, watch out! New life is on the horizon. When God weeps it is the beginning of the death of death. Jesus says “unbind him and let him go.” Unbind him from death. Unbind him from suffering. Unbind him from fear and isolation. And let him go. Be free. Live a resurrection life full of abundance and hope.
New life is on the horizon. The resurrection promises are true. From all that binds you and holds you in the grip of death—Jesus calls you out to new and abundant life with him. Are you bound with the grip of drug or alcohol addiction, self hatred and low self esteem, or feelings of being unloved? Jesus calls you out from the darkness of those tombs to new life. As we recognize and stand against systems and structures of oppression or suffer from illness and disease, Jesus weeps with us and when Jesus weeps, watch out; new life is on the horizon.
So what can we do, but give thanks for the one who weeps with us and calls us to new life? We gather at this table and share a feast with all the saints, living and dead, who have wept with God and trusted that new life was on the horizon. May our tears not be wiped away too quickly and may they be appreciated as holy signs of God’s love for us and the whole creation.