“Where Do We Take Our Tears?”

November 2, 2014

 

Isaiah 25:6-10a

Revelation 7:9-17

 

“…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Along with congregations of all sorts of denominations, here at Congregational UCC  we choose to observe this first Sunday in November as All Saints Sunday, a time to remember and give thanks for the lives of members of this congregation—and all the faithful.

We give thanks to God for Shirley Carew and Ken Lacina and all the other people we remember today because in their time and in their way they joined with us and with others and with all the saints in seeking to make this world a little more like God’s just and loving and merciful realm. In their time and in their way they fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger, visited the sick, and did all those other things great and small that Christians tend to do. In their time and in their way, they received God’s forgiveness and grace and shared these with others.

In giving thanks for the lives of the people we remember today, we commit ourselves anew to activities such as feeding, sheltering, welcoming, and visiting. In giving thanks for the lives of the people we remember today, we commit ourselves anew to being the agents of God’s reconciling love, receiving forgiveness, offering grace.

We in the United Church of Christ, like Protestants in general, do not canonize or pray to saints, but we look to those towering figures of our heritage and our lives for inspiration and encouragement in our own Christian journey. We recognize that the word saint applies to all who follow the living Christ. And in faith we recognize that there is an “enduring communion between the living and the dead in Christ.”[i]

It is a religious sensibility—this awareness of a cloud of witnesses round about us. The world tells us that a chasm is fixed between the living and the dead. In faith we speak of the communion of the saints, of being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. In faith we affirm that there is a bond that death does not destroy.

All Saints’ Day is not about a dead past but a living future toward which both the living and the dead are moving.

The Book of Revelation gives us that amazing vision of where we are going—of a time when God will wipe away all the tears from the eyes of the saints—from your eyes and mine. And it reminds us that in the present we still weep and know sorrow.

Where can we take our sadness?

Where do we go with our anguish?

At times jazz music can help us understand that we are not alone. The standard “St. James Infirmary” sings of someone named Joe McKennedy, his eyes “bloodshot red” from crying. He took his sadness, his tears from St. James to a bar.

Where do we go with our anquish?

I’ve often thought that on any given Sunday, a good 50% of the people who come to worship are on the verge of tears. We walk through these doors bringing family problems, trouble at work, worry from school, concerns about illness and death. If that does not describe you this morning, there is a good chance that your neighbor is worshipping with a weary heart, a burdened spirit.

People sit in these pews and cry. People come to my office and weep. People stand in Rockwood Hall and there are tears. This is not something to regret or try to change. There are few places left outside of the church where we can bring our weary souls and find some rest. There are few places left outside of the church where we can cry and know that our sorrow is accepted and respected. 

Yes, there is much in the Christian life that brings us joy. Joy, however, is not to be confused with an artificial smile plastered on your face. As Emily Dickenson wrote: “I love a look of anguish/ because I know it’s true.”

Everyone knows tears.

There are the tears that come when you are told of a loss, of a death, of a divorce. These tears come out of the stunned realization that what “can’t be” is.

There are bitter tears that you have cried—perhaps in loneliness—over wrongs that have been done to you; tears shed because of a hurt, an injustice.

You know, too, the tears of compassion, shared with someone else in their sorrow. You know the crying, the feeling of distress, when you see someone else impoverished, hungry, alone, or homeless.

You and your neighbors here this morning know sorrow, sadness, and tears. You have probably found that they are not easily wiped away. Have you not said, have you not heard others say, “After all this time, I still can’t talk about it without crying.” Long after the original loss, the initial hurt, the sorrow of our wounded selves remains.

Everyone knows tears.

So the idea of God wiping tears away is very appealing.

Many long for a God who sits upon a throne and makes everything all right. One popular image of God is the Benevolent Ruler—always in charge, all knowing, all powerful, the one who rights wrongs and settles scores. If you are good, good things will happen to you. If you are bad, bad things will happen.

We long for this kind of god because it seems so right. Our experience, however, tells us that God is something other than this.

After a tragedy, one man spoke of his disillusioned sense of God: “I don’t know what to believe anymore,” he said. “I tried to be a good person; I did the best I knew how, and it didn’t do a bit of good. If God is going to let something like this happen, then what’s the use of believing at all?”[ii]

We have learned that it is not always the good who prosper and the bad who suffer. We have seen good people hurt, we have seen death and destruction come to those who didn’t “deserve” it—whether close friends or unknown victims of random events. We have all seen the hungry children on T.V., the images of devastation caused by natural disasters, and the brutal killings that witness to human evil.

And our faith is strong and we know that going to church, being a Christian, does not give us any kind of magic protection from suffering. Indeed, in some places today, simply professing faith in Christ is cause for suffering and persecution.

This was the case for that ancient seer, John—exiled to the island of Patmos because of his faith. In the scripture lesson that we heard this morning, he sees a countless multitude—those faithful people who have come through a period of persecution and tribulation; those who know, as many still know today, the high cost of living faithful lives.

The idea of a god who sits on a throne, wiping away all tears, is appealing, but our experience tells us that God is something other than this.

God’s strength is something other than the ability to end suffering.

In Jesus Christ we discover that God is completely involved with us and with all creation—not in a removed way, but intimately. God is not distant in the heavens but close by—at the bed of one who is dying, at the home of those who grieve, at the side of people who suffer unjustly. Jesus shows us a God who is a compassionate friend, one who suffers with us.

It is precisely in that suffering that the strength of God is found.

As one writer put it: “God must feel some responsibility for the pain this life brings to so many people. And yet, God does not faint and give up, but perseveres, I suppose, because God deems life and the human experiment worthwhile despite the cost. God keeps on sustaining the world and giving people like you and me hope and faith that there is meaning in living. In this way God enables us to persevere too.”

The shepherd that John saw, guiding the people to springs of living water, was the Lamb, the One who had been slain. Jesus is able to lead those who suffer, those who cry, because he fully entered into the suffering and pain that is part of life.

Our tears and our suffering become our strength when we rest in the love of God who suffers with us, knowing that we are not alone. And from this knowledge we are able to share that love with others.

When you cry with someone grieving a death, God is there, God cries too.

When you cry with someone who has met with injustice, God is there, God cries too.

When you cry with someone and let your anger and hurt become power for bringing healing to people who are crushed by the world, God is there, crying, giving strength.

A shepherd who knows the sorrow of the sheep can lead them to the waters of life. A Christ who has suffered can be our strength when we hurt.

A Christ who has redeemed suffering in being raised from death can offer us new life out of the tears of the present.

Yes, our hope is that, ultimately, our tears will be wiped away. Until then, there is suffering and sadness.

Still, we take heart. We know that in those times, in these days, God is beside us, weeping as well.

 



[i] Page: 2
J. Moltmann, quoted in Polkinghorne, The God of Hope and the End of the World, pg. 109.

[ii] Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life, pg. 7-8.