(A sermon based on Psalm 126:5-6 a ndRevelation 21:1-4 preached for All Saints'/Souls' Sunday)
Mourning, crying, and tears will be part of our landscape for as long as we live in this world. That’s because, whether we are looking backward or looking forward, death is on the horizon. A time comes in everyone’s life when for the first time someone significant dies; from that time on, when we look back we will see that life and that death. From the moment we are born our own death is on the horizon; so are the deaths of other people that we know and love.
Something we ought to remember that we often forget is that we are all in it together. There are people who die with no one to mourn their passing and that is unspeakably sad. But 99% of the time, when someone dies someone else mourns. That is the case whether we are Americans, Iraqis, Canadians, Syrians, Israelis, or Liberians. It is the case whether we live in a capitalist or in a socialist society. It is the same whether we are rich or poor, black or white, male or female, straight or gay, believer or atheist.
It is the human condition. People die. And when people die, other people mourn. And when people mourn, we cry.
Our tears are a testimony. They are a testimony to the lives others have lived and to the ways in which they shared their lives with us. They are a testimony to all that we have been through together. They are a testimony to all that we have done with each other and to each other. They are a testimony to shared love, shared hope, and shared effort. That’s why not all tears are bad, even those to which loss and grief give birth: they testify to our relationship with the one who has died.
Still, there is no denying that loss and grief are hard and that tears produced by mourning come from a place of pain. So it is very good news that John shares when he tells us that in the new heaven and new earth that God will bring about one day that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes” and that “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” God will eliminate death, mourning, crying, and pain because God will be with us; notice how in John’s symbolic world the new Jerusalem, which represents the community in which God and all of God’s people live together, comes down from heaven to us. It is a beautiful picture of how God chooses to make God’s home with us and how in that home, when it is fully realized, God will take care of all of our ultimate needs forever.
It is all because of what God has already done in Jesus Christ our Lord; it is all because of what God has done through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In him we will have new life free of tears.
But we already have that new life; we are already living in the power of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit God is already with us, holding us while we weep. It is just that right now we cannot live without pain, mourning, and tears. But we can live in a way that gives them new meaning and that helps simultaneously to embrace them and to see beyond them.
A while back I saw something I had never seen before: I saw the end of a rainbow. I was driving along in the country when I saw a huge rainbow spanning the sky and as I looked across a pasture I saw where the rainbow touched the earth; I could see the trees of the woods through it so that the trees looked tinted with the colors of the rainbow. I briefly considered pulling over and walking over to the spot so that I could have the colors of the rainbow bathe my body. “Perhaps,” I thought, “the rainbow might bring a little color to my life.” I knew, though, that by the time I got there it would be gone and that even if it wasn’t I wouldn’t actually be able to see the colors on my skin.
Still, the sight gave me hope. It let me ponder how the beauty of the sunlight refracting through the moisture of the atmosphere could lift me up even while I could not become fully a part of it. At least I couldn’t yet.
For now, we cannot avoid the tears because we cannot avoid the pain. But we can know the power of God’s love and the wonder of God’s presence with us right here and right now. And one day, death and mourning and pain will no more and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
There’s a part of me, though, that hopes that the tracks of our tears will remain. I’m not sure I want to forget what helped to form and shape me into the person that I am and that I am becoming, even those experiences that hurt …