April 2, 2017 / LAMENT - TEARS / Sara Wolbrecht / John 11:28-37
Alright, I have a quick question for you, and I want you to answer, out loud, all at the same time. Imagine that you just walked in the door here at Salt House (so get there mentally, you walk in, you see me), and I ask you: “Hey, how are you?” Probably 99% of the time, when asked how we’re doing, what do we say? Good! And you? But the real question is – how often when we say that, are we actually doin’, feelin’ good?
Friends, last week, we talked about taming our monkeys, our monkey mind, which was our conversation and experience with meditation. With listening for the heartbeat of God in us when we are quiet. And also how we hear it in the quiet of listening, prayerfully to scripture through practices like Lectio Divina. Did you have a chance to breathe, meditate during the week?
Part of how we enter into meditation is by checking in with ourselves, our bodies, taking stock of how we are actually feeling. Giving ourselves permission to let our real feelings bubble up – and experience them, naming them as ok. Today, in some ways, continues lifting up that practice of self-awareness, of honestly naming and expressing what we feel.
Because: we’re arguing today that authenticity, that vulnerability – is absolutely central to living in the image of Christ. To following Jesus, to living the life of God. …And so today, specifically we’re talking about tears. We’re naming and experiencing how the heartbeat of God, the presence of Jesus and the sacred, is there and heard in our tears.
So to begin our journey into that, it’s important to name what we all already know: that we are enculturated with the idea that tears are mostly not ok. Would you agree? We’re patterned into the practice of telling ourselves and others that we’re good. I’m good, you’re good, we’re all good. Emotional awareness, having a finger on the pulse of how we’re actually doing, is not something we access easily.
I want to bring us back to the question we asked at the beginning of worship – How does/did your family respond to tears? And the emotions that fuel tears, like anger, sadness, disappointment – how did your family express those emotions? Did they? In other words – were tears welcomed, normal, ok, ok only in private, ok only when feeling certain kinds of things that make you cry…How did your family do tears and the associated emotions?
As you think about that – first – do know upfront that most families don’t do this well. Don’t know how to create space for the expression of tears – and the emotions that go with them. So if your family fits into that description – know that most do. And that’s because our families are effected by the wider cultural climate, and the way that tears in our culture are treated is as a source of shame, embarrassment and weakness. Think about it: what do we usually say whenever we start to cry in front of someone else? I’m sorry. Isn’t that interesting? Have you apologized for tears? Or not – because you never cry in front of others?
I think even in the Christian world, tears – and the accompanying anger, sadness, or disappointment – are twisted into a weird form of lack of faith. Oh, don’t be discouraged this is all a part of “God’s plan for your life.” Or: Oh, if you really believe that your loved one is with God, then you shouldn’t be sad, because they’re in a better place. That’s true – but we still miss them in this place, right?
And so I encourage you to be in touch with how you have been formed in how you express tears. In light of all of this, today we name that tears are good – that making room in ourselves to really access what we feel, to express those feelings (even the anger, sadness and disappointment) – is good and necessary for us. Not only because every scientist, therapist, psychiatrist will tell you that – but also because the Jesus story tells us this, too.
And so we turn to an important scene in John’s gospel to see this lived out.
The whole story is John 11:1-44 (that’s right, 44 verses). It is the death of Jesus’ friend, Lazarus. Jesus’ exchange with Lazarus’ sisters, also Jesus’ friends, Mary and Martha. And then the miraculous moment when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
We’re going to look at 10 verses in the latter part of this story – but do know that it is only a slice of this rich, layered story.
Let me set up the story a little bit. Now remember, Mary, Martha and Lazarus are all siblings, and all good friends of Jesus. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. Jesus intentionally doesn’t go right away (interesting). When he and the disciples finally go to Bethany – Lazarus is dead, has been in the tomb four days, and many Jews have come to be with Mary and Martha in their grief – and to cry out and grieve with them. The sisters hear Jesus is coming, and Martha goes out to meet him – in their exchange, Jesus says to Martha one of the many “I am” statements of John’s gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life...” And then we pick up as this conversation finishes and Martha heads back to Mary.
John 11:28-37 (The Message) 28 After saying this, Martha went to her sister Mary and whispered in her ear, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.”
29-32 The moment she heard that, she jumped up and ran out to him. Jesus had not yet entered the town but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When her sympathizing Jewish friends saw Mary run off, they followed her, thinking she was on her way to the tomb to weep there. Mary came to where Jesus was waiting and fell at his feet, saying, “Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33-34 When Jesus saw Mary sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him. He said, “Where did you put him?”
34-35 “Master, come and see,” they said. Now Jesus wept.
36 The Jews said, “Look how deeply he loved him.”
37 Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.”
Did you notice it? There’s a lot of movement in these 10 verse, but did you hear it? We find Jesus here, bursting into tears. It’s one of the most remarkable moments in the whole gospel story. Jesus wept. There can be no doubt of its historical truth. Nobody in the early church, venerating Jesus and celebrating his victory over death, would have invented such a thing as Jesus crying. That doesn’t sell the story of a victorious God, does it.
Jesus cried, even though he knew he would resurrect Lazarus a few minutes later – he let his tears flow anyway. He didn’t choose between grief and hope. Equally remarkable? Nor did he force anyone else to. Jesus does not instruct Mary to be ashamed of her tears. He did not tell her that grief signaled a lack of hope and trust in God. Instead, Jesus cried with her. Showing us how grief and hope can coexist in followers of Jesus not as an either/or but as a both/and. We can be good, I’m good – and feel like life is good (because it is!), and yet also make room for the tears, too.
My friends, this is it. There is wholeness to who we are invited to be as Jesus followers – and it is to be people who feel all the things.
Why do we bring this all up now, today, in our Lenten conversation of prayer? This week we dive into the prayer practice of Lament. Lament is to cry out, a passionate expression of grief or sorrow, to wail, to grieve. I wonder: do you have a way of practicing lament? Do you do it? My guess is that many of us actually do practice lament in our prayer life to some degree – it is all those Help me, Jesus moments when we reach the end of our patience, our rope, our energy.
What’s clear: God’s people have always been people who lament. There are so many examples of lament in the bible. Which I think some people find surprising – because somehow “Christians” often carry the expectation that they’re shiny and happy all the time. But that’s simply an inaccurate representation of the life of God – again, because hope and grief and coexist. We can live in that gray space, in the tension. That’s life! The Book of Psalms carries brutally honest language of lament – like these phrases (overhead on) – when have these been our own thoughts and prayers, right? Of the 150 Psalms, there are about eight recognized genres of Psalms. And there are more Psalms of Lament than any other genre. Why? Because people got pain. And because people throughout time have discovered what happens when we access our pain, and give it voice and tears, and let God by moved by it, and join us in our crying out. There, in the tears, throughout time, people have heard the heartbeat of God.
So what do we do with this today? My friends, as a community, we try to be people here who name our pain, who create space to show up as honestly and cranky as we feel each time we get together – to be a community who is fiercely for the fullness of emotional expression. And it’s hard to do that. But we fight to do that as a community.
And I would offer you three ways to live this out outside these walls, too. First, I challenge you to enter into this week, willing to, when asked how you’re doing, to take a moment to give a thoughtful, honest answer. And the answer can still be “Good!” if that’s how we’re doing, right?
What would it look like for us to be people who… actually share how we feel? (And maybe not every time – the grocery store checkout line is not always the place to really get into it – though it can be).
And the second challenge: what would it look like to be people who stop apologizing for our tears? I challenge you to not apologize for your own tears. And third final challenge, I challenge you to answer the question that you and only you can answer today: What might it look like for you to practice lament this week? Justin, in our book, in today’s mediation and practice lays out some simple ways to do that – like walking, writing, letting God in to our lament. I encourage you to answer this question, make a commitment, and put it on your calendar before you leave today.
Anyone else a fan of the show, “This is Us?” We were catching up on episodes this week, and I’m crying my eyes out as usual – and I realized that watching that show makes room in me to let out some of those tears and lament that have been stored up. Anyone else do that with shows sometimes? Feel free to get creative about what lament can be.
And now really FINALLY, we will also practice lament, this form of prayer now. We’ll finish our time by doing just that – with no expectation that there must be tears, but to create space to listen for the lament in our own hearts that may have been stored up. …First, I invite you to become aware of your body. How it sits in this space, maybe roll your shoulders back, shift positions. Feel your feet in your shoes. Close your eyes if you’d like, and become aware of your breath. Follow it in through your nose and into your lungs, then back out.
Here are the things we’re opening ourselves up to feeling today, to access lament. Three key emotions: Anger. Sadness. Disappointment. (Repeat it). I invite you to actually try repeating those words silently, if that helps. Today may be a day where you are very aware of how you’re feeling one or all of these things – maybe because of something fresh that is happening in your life. Or you may be carrying anger, sadness, or disappointment further down. Maybe it’s been around for a while, and you’ve grown accustomed to its company. We invite God in with these words: anger, sadness, disappointment, letting it in as we consider our heart, our life, our relationships, our dreams, all the change and transition we are facing. And invite God to let something, a situation, a person, to bubble up to the surface – and talk to God about it. Let it become your lament. Maybe more than one thing, maybe lots of things will rise up as your lament today.
Jesus asks Mary, “Where have you laid him?” Which echoes of the very words Mary will ask of Jesus’ body when she finds the tomb empty. And Mary’s response to Jesus is another echo from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, for she and the crowd say: “Master, come and see.” Jesus said “Come and see” at the beginning of this gospel to those who wondered about following him. It is the simplest of invitations, and yet it goes to the heart of Christian faith.
In these moments now, ‘Come and see,’ is what we say to Jesus, as we lead him, all tears, to our places of deepest grief and sorrow. …‘Come and see,’ he says to us in reply, as he leads us through the sorrow to the place where he now dwells in light and love and resurrection glory. But we have to go through the tears to see the hope realized on the other side. And so we, with Jesus, Come and see, we lament, now…