Lamentations 3:19-24 and Luke 11:23-35
Blue Christmas Sermon to Pohick Church, December 8, 2021
Rev. Dr. Lynn Ronaldi
Tears…healing, cathartic, transforming tears.
Individually, as a community of faith, and as a nation, we have wept many tears in the past few years. Tears for loved ones and precious friends who have died. Tears for those who have suffered from COVID-19. Tears for a chaotic and divided world. Tears for an uneasy and uncertain era of change, on so many levels.
And it seems to go on and on. We are still not finished with this pandemic and all the loss and lament it has evoked. We cry out, “How long?”
Certainly, tears are flowing tonight in our Blue Christmas Service. We have lost beloved family, friends, and parishioners like George Crump, Bill Poad, Grant Hodges, Anita Stribling, and others. Many have lost parents, family and friends.
During the pandemic, we have lost so much of our former way of life. We have lost precious time spent together in physical community, and in communion. And so we weep.
Take heart: Tears are human, and tears are divine. Tears have the power to transform us. What is the evidence? Scripture offers us ample clues, like…
In Lamentations we find Jeremiah lamenting for the whole of Israel that is in exile after the Babylonian invasion. He is expressing an entire nation’s sorrow and grief as he says: “My soul thinks of it, and my soul is continually bowed down within me.” Yet we witness Jeremiah’s soul being transformed in the midst of grief. He concludes, “The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.”
We also see that God himself mourns. Jesus is no hurry to rush through the grieving process. He knows that suffering and death do not have the last word.
Luke’s Gospel tells us Jesus weeps about Lazarus death, with Martha, Mary and the community. Notice that God-in-the-flesh does not avoid the ache of losing his own beloved friend. Nor does Jesus rush to offer a quick fix for the sisters’ pain.
On the contrary, Jesus honors and treasures tears. He weeps human and divine tears with Martha and Mary. Here, Jesus is most fully human. Most fully divine.
His dear friends express the common human desire to avoid the pain of loss. Mary demands of Jesus with impatience, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Clearly, Jesus is in no hurry to arrive, when he hears the sad news. He waits three days! Even now, he does not hasten to dry their tears. Instead, he is deeply moved, and he weeps with them. Ultimately, he raises Lazarus to new life.
Along with Martha and Mary we may well ask, why the delay? Why doesn’t Jesus rush to the rescue?
“People are always impatient, but God is never in a hurry,” writes Greek author Nikos Kastanzis. As Ron Rolheiser notes, when we look at all of human history, it’s remarkable how often God seems to take his time, and how often humans are impatient.
In the Psalms and elsewhere throughout the Hebrew scriptures, as well as the New Testament, the cry of Advent echoes down through the ages:
“Come Lord, come! How much longer must we wait!”
Why does it seem like God is slow to act? Jewish apocalyptic literature offers a helpful answer to this timeless-question, saying:
“Every tear brings the Messiah closer.”
Is it possible that here’s a connection between our impatient yearning, and the possibility of salvation being born?
The process of human birth might help us understand this mystery. Gestation cannot be hurried. Delivering new life, mothers experience impatience and pain.
Likewise, sorrow and grief are part of a gestation process that cannot be rushed.
The good news is: Tears, lament, and a long season of prayer, longing and tears facilitate a process that brings forth salvation in our lives.
St. Benedict’s Rule of Life specifically calls for tears. For life lived in community, he recommends “devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, and to compunction of heart (which means sorrow)…”
Why? Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister says the ancients believed that tears were a gift and a sign of God’s presence and favor. That God is present in our tears! Even and especially in our communal, shared tears!
How can the process of lament and grief lead to our transformation and healing?
We need to share our tears and share our grief and our joys in community. This is what we do every time we worship together. Every time we listen to the story of our salvation in Scripture. Every time we pray and lament with the Psalms. Every time we partake in the Lord’s Supper or receive an anointing with oil for healing.
It’s what we are doing when we are simply present to one another, listening to the other’s story of pain, loss and impatience, without trying to fix or change it. It’s what we’ve been practicing during our Advent Adult Forum.
In preparation for tonight, I’ve been pondering the losses I’ve suffered and the beloved people for whom I yearn. And I am brought once again to tears. My mother, Sr. Adeline, my mother-in-law and very recently, my father-in-law. Parishioners we’ve lost. Friends I no longer see as often. All of those who’ve shown me the face of Christ.
I have learned to trust that the tears are healing. That each one brings me closer to Christ. And I find myself oddly grateful for lamentations and tears…for through it all, I grow deeper in compassion and patience for others. With Jeremiah I trust that the Lord is my portion, and therefore I will hope in him. I trust that Jesus is indeed Resurrection and Life. I have learned that weeping with him is not only acceptable, it is necessary to salvation.
Tonight, I invite you to come for prayer and anointing. Draw near to our tender loving Lord. Pour out your heart to Him. Cry out, “how long!” Open your heart to let His Holy Spirit fill you with his healing light and love.
And finally, give thanks for the gift of tears!
As you go forth, continue to let the tears flow! Remember the times God has held you in the tender palm of his hand.
Try praying Psalm 139. No matter how distant God seems, there is no place you can go, where God’s love does not pursue you. Be patient with yourself. In time, you will learn patience.
Feel your ache. Yearn for salvation and healing. Lament for what was, like Jeremiah. Cry your tears, like Jesus.
Tears are a gift from God. For as Christians, we do not grieve without hope.
This healing process of grieving leads us ever deeper into the life of Christ. We trust that ,even in God’s seeming absence and delay, Christ is in the process of making all things new.
Along with the ancient Jewish writers, we can believe this:
“Every tear brings the Messiah closer.” Amen.