Teary May 9, 2007

The last few weeks in worship we’ve been reading those beautiful passages from Revelation 7 and Revelation 21, passages that talk about God wiping tears from human eyes. We know the historical context in which those words were written, a context that included extreme persecution and the knowledge that to be a Christ-follower meant you very well could be saying goodbye to people you loved (not to mention putting your own neck on the line).

But there’s something so . . . well . . . human about those references to tears.

While most Christ-followers I know live persecution-free (DC metro traffic is not persecution, people), I don’t know anyone who has managed to avoid at least a few tears. I don’t know about you, but I’ve cried my share. The image of God reaching down to wipe them away just gets me right there, you know what I mean?

We were discussing these passages in my lectionary group Monday when super pastor and friend extraordinaire, Jim Somerville, reminded me of a passage from Marilynne Robinson’s beautiful book, Gilead.

Personally, I don’t know how he remembers these things, but he mentioned a quote, right near the end of the book, where the narrator, John Ames, speaks of those teary Revelation passages:

“Augustine says the Lord loves each one of us as an only child, and that has to be true. ‘He will wipe the tears from all faces.’ It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.”

And isn’t that the kicker? For God to wipe the tears, we’re going to have to cry them.

All those times I’ve read those passages in worship or recited them at funerals . . . the obvious never crossed my mind.

God wipes the tears. But we cry them.

All this makes me think of an experience I had when I worked at a shelter for homeless women in New Orleans. Every morning residents and staff would gather for a short, optional devotional time. That morning the reading was Psalm 56, not one of those Psalms I knew by heart.

After the devotional time we walked outside to the yard and my colleague, who was working as housemother and trying desperately to climb her own way out of homelessness and drug addiction, turned to me and told me she had never, ever in her whole life, heard such a beautiful reading from the Bible.

I looked at her with some puzzlement . . . I didn’t know what she meant. So she explained.

“All those nights I stood on street corners in desperation or woke up in the scariest places not sure how I got there . . . and I cried and cried? Can you imagine a God who cares so much about us that he catches our tears and keeps them–saves them– in a bottle?”

No I couldn’t, but then I did.

God saves tears . . . hers and even mine.

Thanks be to God.

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