IN TEARS AND IN TENDERNESS (Thoughts on the verse, “Jesus wept.”)
Liner notes from the album “Footnotes for Departures”
by: bill mallonee
Ever since I was very young, maybe 5-6 years old, I have been obsessed with death. I sensed “it” early on. The notion of the cessation of Life and one’s personality (which seems to me a hallowed and glorious almost giddy affair) was repulsive, cauterizing and harrowing. It has felt that way with increasing sadness and helplessness as I have gotten older. Mortality, temporality, lack of permanence. Whatever one chooses to describe it with, one most days, it all seems bleak & relentless.
I know the religious narratives, Biblical and otherwise. The stories we have, whether based in history or myth, are typically ones of beauty with beautiful endings. They help one “stare it down.” For fleeting moments they bring some joy and assurance. But (on most days) my faith is weak if there at all. And i still shudder at the prospect of death.
I remember an Easter week story in the Bible. (I have Dr. Francis Schaeffer to thank for this insight.) The scene is the one where Jesus is brought word that his good friend Lazarus is very sick. Interestingly, He waits a few days before heading out to visit Lazarus. He even informs his disciple/friends that Lazarus has died. But he also tells them to have some faith. “Wait,” he basically says. The “Last word” on the subject hasn’t been spoken yet.
Jesus arrives at the tomb. Lazarus has been dead for 4 days. He stares at the stone sealed over the entrance as was the practice in ancient times. He is oblivious to the murmurings and goading of his detractors who are also there. He is lost in memory, the loving memories of his friend.
Now, here’s the curious thing:
The Greek text says something that have been translated as “Jesus groaned in spirit,” that He was “troubled.”
But the explanation (exegesis) that I have heard says that He was angry.
It is an arresting moment.
Jesus. Angry. Angry at death, angry at loss, angry at grief, and all that is robbed from us.
Angry at all that is absurd.
To me, it was and still is, explosive.
Think about it: The Son of God. (Or whatever name you wish to ascribe to Him)…is angry. Angry at death. Angry at a universe that is “whack.”
There is more to come here. If all the claims about Him are true, what follows is the most pure, loving, & transparent gesture ever made by a human being on this earth.
The Bible says: “Jesus wept.”
It is, in fact, the shortest verse in all of Scripture.
And it is perhaps the one with loudest bombshell of Grace.
Got it? Has it registered?
The weeping Christ feels the same way about death…as you do. No dressing it up, no dumbing it down, no minimizing the horror or futility of it. This is something to weep bitter, angry tears over.
It is an overwhelming display of…tenderness.
What does this mean? What does it mean to have the Son of God weep at your graveside?
It, at the very least, means this:
You are not alone. You are not alone in your anger at death; not alone in your fear of death; not alone in your anger of all that goes lost, unfulfilled, unfinished when death shows up; not alone in your anger even at God for “allowing” such an atrocity/interruption/tragedy to happen.
There is no glossing it over or prettifying this life.
We all, one way or another, “leave the party” too soon.
Holy Week. Here’s what you can bet on:
Take up the cross, so to speak, of your human existence and you can count on be your heart being broken; you can count of your dreams being dashed; you can count on your best intentions being ignored or, worse, misunderstood.
But count on this as well:
You are not alone.
I find this sort of “incongruity” a quiet witness to the truth of the faith. The human-ness of Jesus is so utterly perfect that He can grieve perfectly the loss of his dear friend, be angry about it…and still be Lord, God, Savior. He doesn’t have to offer explanations as to why evil exists. In tears and tenderness He weeps at every tomb.
So, how does this affect you and me in the here and now?
Easter is often offered to us in a sanitized, neutered version. Complete with bonnets, new dresses, colored eggs and bunnies. Nature rejoices. There’s a lot to be said and celebrated about the energy of love within the life force.
Still, I think, we are lulled into missing the point
Easter, as the Bible tells it, is the grittiest of Church remembrances. The events of Holy week are a crystallization and distillation of all that can “go wrong” within our lives.
Holy Week’s pages are filled with boasters who say they’ll follow a friend even unto death. And then don’t.
Holy Week’s pages are peppered with feckless and conniving “climbers” who will sell a friend out just to save their own ass and possibly get ahead.
Easter’s sad pages are also filled with folks of good heart;
who nod in agreement at the most astonishing words ever spoken to humankind. Just like we do every Sunday morning.
Easter week is filled with good-hearted-nodding-in- agreement-“I’ll-never-sell-you-short, Jesus,” people who cut and run at the first sign of confrontation or challenge.
We do it all the time. We’ve made it an art form.
One of Easter week’s many lessons is: Be not deceived. We are not made of such stern stuff. And because of that, Jesus wept, as well.
He has reason to weep. He is weeping still. Weeping at all of the vain glories we chase after. Weeping at the 2 bit, cheap idols we “buy” and cling to. Weeping at all the betrayals we’ll no doubt tally up as we live out our days. Weeping at the war machines we create in the name of concepts that annihilate life. Weeping at the harsh words, judgements and criticisms we thoughtlessly cut each other to pieces with, often in the name of religion.
Weeping at the love & kindness we withhold. Weeping at all that is lost, never born, never realized.
He weeps at every tomb, even now, I suspect. I suspect, in some way, He is even weeping at our own tombs we will one day enter.
Because you are never alone.
Limitless in His mercy, grace and consolation, tears are one of those thing, He seems to never run out of.
You will hear his voice, just as Lazarus did.
You’ll shake off the shroud of death and perhaps, with stumbling steps, move towards that Voice. And, falling into His arms, you will recognize it as the voice of Tenderness & Love Itself.
And you may find some of His blessed tears on your new suit of clothes.