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Shedding and wiping of tears

Trinity 10 BCP

12 August 2007 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

One of the pinnacles of a Holy Land pilgrimage is to celebrate the Eucharist at the church of Dominus Flevit…‘The Lord wept’. The whole church is built in the shape of a teardrop and is perched dramatically and beautifully on the Mount of Olives (two thirds up) overlooking the Kedron valley. You get the most spectacular vista of the Holy City of Jerusalem – City of Peace. Inside the church, the congregation look towards the altar and see behind it the uninterrupted and breathtaking view of the city walls and gates and buildings in pinky-white stone…all glowing and glorious, and not so very different from the scene which would have presented itself to Jesus…except, nowadays, for the mosques.

During the devotions known as the Station of the Cross when followers walk spiritually with Jesus from the place of condemnation to the place of the cross and the tomb, the 8th Station depicts the women of Jerusalem being told not to weep for Jesus, but rather for themselves and for their children.

Psalm 137 is a lament of the people of Israel in exile: By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered thee O Sion.

Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead. Indeed on the first Palm Sunday, it seems more than likely that Jesus came to the city probably having stayed the night with Mary Martha and Lazarus at little village of Bethany just over from the Mount of Olives, and so passed the way of where the Dominus Flevit church is sited.

In today’s gospel Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem. His lamentation is in a form which suggests that in the original Aramaic, Jesus spoke in verse. Thus employing ironic word play we notice often in his teaching. Jerusalem – the City of Peace literally – cannot see when true peace comes – and he seems to foretell the coming siege and destruction of Jerusalem (just over 30 years later) as poetic justice and judgement.

Jesus weeps because people cannot see the truth…they cannot seize true peace…God’s unique and chosen moment is passing them by…trade continues as usual. There may be many modern day ‘Sin Cities’, and the Corinth of St. Paul’s time would no doubt have fitted the bill…but Jesus’ tears are not so much about wickedness, or red light moral depravity that seems to be a tourist attraction in any large metropolis these days. His weeping is more about indifference…and culpable ignorance. Ignorance displayed by those who occupied the sacred Temple for example…which was supposed to be the gift of God’s presence right in the heart of Jerusalem. The Temple itself was given in a time of blessed peace, during the reign of Solomon…rather than during the reign of King David, and a time of war. The Temple was given that the people of Israel might worship God, the God of peace and justice, and recognise Him as the origin of all good things. But now the Temple had become a den of thieves and trade and was in need of cleansing. This suggests to us the need for the false temples we have erected in our own lives to be overturned (as in St. John’s version), and be raised up into a spiritual temple.

There is another irony. What Jesus drove out of the temple was one kind of trade. What he put in its place, however, was another kind of trade, a divine transaction between God and man. The holy trade of forgiveness of sins, and thanksgiving for all God’s gifts which underpins our whole life of faith. Most especially for the gift of Christ crucified and glorified. The true business of the Christian is suggested to us in today’s Collect - that God’s humble servants be given grace to ask such things as will please and delight him, discovering His will and willing it for ourselves and our world. Everything else is thievery. Today’s epistle refers to another trade as well, to be enterprised amongst ourselves. Namely the sharing of our God-given spiritual gifts for the building up of Christ’s body – holy Church.

I saw Glyndebourne’s staging of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion on Thursday, and rather wanted to weep over that…it was a confused and lamentable production, though musically exquisite. However, there were one or two touches of genius…not least the pouring of salt slowly out of a glass at moments of bitter tears and regret…signifying the salt of tears. But also the pouring of salt over the head of Jesus, suggesting torture and rubbing salt into his wounds. I won’t say the beauty of Sarah Connolly’s aria in Part 2 didn’t set off a tear in me…I am most likely to shed a tear during music. We British are not renowned for being overt in the display of emotion, though I notice with one or two older friends what some might unkindly describe as a sort of emotional incontinence. Tears flow readily when recounting stories from down memory lane. How lovely that the march of the years causes a softening in many people’s characters – in opposition to that hardness of heart which can be the death of a soul.

In the book of Revelation we are told of a new heaven and a new earth…a New Jerusalem, when God’s home is with his people…and when God will wipe away the tears of his people. But, before God can wipe away our tears…we must learn to weep.
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