In Tears & Tenderness
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 was repulsive, cauterizing and harrowing. I don’t know how I “internalized” so much of it in my thoughts, impressions and nightmare-ish images, but I did.
Life was supposed to be Saturdays, no school…and freedom
Let’s face it: You get older, Health diminishes. Love seems to fail. Life sputters out, sometimes in horrific ways; It all adds to the helpless-ness and fear. Mortality, finitude, lack of permanence. Whatever one chooses to describe it with, one most days, it all seems bleak & relentless.
“Every thing dies, baby, that’s a fact…” ~ “Atlantic City”/Bruce Springsteen
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.
Yes. 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. I still shudder at the prospect of death.
…but maybe a little less.
And here’s why…
“Jesus wept.” John 11: 35
It’s the shortest verse in the Bible.
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, very sick. Interestingly, even oddly, 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 a moment that draws one up short.
Groaning with anger.
Angry at death,
Angry at loss,
Angry at grief,
and all that it is robbed from his friend, 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 brutish, cruel and without explanation
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.”
The shortest verse.
And 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, at my 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.
“Maybe one day, baby, everything comes back…” ~ B. Springsteen
There is no glossing it over or prettifying this life.
Sermonize it, eulogize it, Oprah-ize it…
We all, one way or another, “leave the party” too soon.
Is it symbolic for all of this journey we call Life?
If, so, here’s what you can bet on:
Take up your cross, so to speak. That cross of your human existence.
You can count on be your heart being broken…a million times.
You can count of your dreams being dashed;
You can count on your best intentions being ignored or, worse, misunderstood.
You can count on losing those who are nearest & dearest.
You can count on knowing loneliness on a first name basis.
But count on this as well:
You are not alone.
Something always seems to be “lurking” at the edges of our days, even the darkest of them.
A “last word,” perhaps?
I find this sort of “incongruity” a quiet witness to the truth of the faith.
The bad news comes first, before the “good news” makes sense.
The human-ness of Jesus.
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 offer explanations as to why evil exists.
In tears and tenderness He just weeps at Lazarus’tomb.
And I suspect 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 God’s 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 the Church’s remembrances.
The events of Holy Week are a crystallization & distillation of all that can “go wrong” in the world…and within our lives.
Holy Week’s pages are filled with accounts of friends who “pledge allegiance.”
Loud, self-inflated boasters who say they’ll follow a friend even unto death.
And then they don’t.
And when given their chance to be courageous arrives?
Their cowardice manifests itself from every word & deed…
Holy Week’s pages are peppered with feckless & conniving “climbers” who will sell a friend out just to save their own skin and possibly get ahead.
Easter’s sad pages are also filled with folks of good heart;
They haul bodies off of bloody instruments of torture and death. They try and bestow what little honor is left on a Body so disfigured by human hatred & violence that It’s hardly recognizable.
Good folks (or at least aspiring to be so) who heard the most astonishing words ever spoken to humankind.
Just like we do every Sunday morning.
In Scripture, 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. It’s a big club.
We’ve made it an art form.
And so, one of Easter Week’s lessons is simply this:
Be not deceived.
You 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 anew at the war machines we create and surround with rhetoric like “patriotism,” “national interests,” and “Glory.”
All in the name of concepts that annihilate Life.
He’s weeping still at the harsh words, judgements and criticisms we thoughtless cut each other to pieces with, often in the name of His religion.
Weeping at the love & kindness & compassion we withhold from one another.
Jesus. Weeping. Endlessly weeping. Perpetually weeping
He weeps at every tomb, even now,
I suspect, in some way, He is weeping at our own tombs.
The ones we will one day enter.
The Lord of Life, The Son of God.
Closer than a Brother.
You, dear lost, lonely, sinful, scared traveler…are never alone.
Limitless in His mercy, grace and consolation.
Tears are one of those things, He has 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 into the light & towards that Voice.
New skin. Radiant as a new-born baby.
And, falling into His arms, you will recognize that voice of Tenderness & of Love Itself.
And you may find some of His blessed tears on your new suit of clothes, as well.