T is for Tears (an alphabet for penitents)

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it,  saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God. -Luke 19:40-44

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. Jesus came to the city triumphant, celebrated as King and riding on a Donkey foal. Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. They hailed him as King in the pageantry of Palm Sunday [incidently, there are interesting resonances between Jesus’ and Jacob Maccabee’s triumphal entry a century and a half earlier]. Days later these same folks would chant, “Crucify Him! Bring us Barrabas!” But today was a day of fanfare. No one present foresaw the tragedy of the coming week. No one, except Jesus.

When he drew near the city, he wept. There stood the Son of God, snotty faced and red eyed, his voice shaking,“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes . . .” Jesus wept for the spiritual blindness of the people—the way that their patterns of behavior, leadership, and systems had put them on a  path of destruction. Jesus wept because, in a few short decades, the city would be under siege. The walls of the city and the temple would be destroyed in 70AD. Those in the city walls would be crushed. Jesus wept because the people didn’t recognize the day of their visitation—Jesus, the Word made Flesh—he Incarnate God was riding into the city. The people did not see. 

Tears are cathartic. A good cry is an emotional response which releases an endorphin that helps reduce pain and improve our mood. Far from being a sign of weakness, emotional tears give us the strength to face difficult tasks. Sometimes naming past wounds can cause tears to well up in our eyes and provide the emotional release that allows you to move forward. If you have had a good cry in the face of grief, loss, betrayal, rejection, you know what I am talking about. This is sometimes embarrassing because when you cry your emotional self is exposed. But it is always good.

Tears are an essential component of the spiritual life and a sign that we are open to the rhythms of God’s grace. We have had too much of spiritual dry eye—the stony-faced rationalism of late Enlightenment Christianity. But like grace, tears can’t (or shouldn’t) be manufactured. Crocodile tears and manipulating the emotions are signs of a spirituality gone amiss. Yet, the soul sensitized to God’s heart will feel what God feels.

You may find yourself weeping at systemic injustice, racism, poverty, violence, war.  You might cry about the path we are on—the mutually assured destruction inherent in our divisiveness, violence, and mistrust. Your heart may break for your city and the spiritual blindness you find there, the ways people miss God’s presence and purposes. The soul that perceives the peril of our mutual life but never cries is dangerous.  It is the cryers that have the emotional honesty to name the pain. They don’t medicate their pain with distractions but take an honest look at the predicament we are in. We need more red-eyed prophets to show us a better way to navigate the world.

God soften our hearts so that it will break for what breaks Your heart. Let us feel what You feels. Give us the strength to look at our predicament and face the days ahead. 


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I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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