Attending to Tears

It’s been interesting to watch some of the theological reflection that’s been going on by the pastor-theologian branch of things in light of the coronavirus.  It is good to have people try and make sense of things.  I appreciated Wright’s look at lament from a few days ago.  I also appreciate today’s post by Hans Boersma about reflecting on the Passion of Jesus in the midst of our own struggles with Our Current Moment.  After acknowledging our culture’s intent to always avoid pain and suffering, he writes:

No, I am not calling for an inversion of the cultural ethos, suggesting that we maximize pain and minimize pleasure. The coronavirus is an evil. We rightly do what we can to stop its transmission, and we ought to plead with God for mercy. We should not take lightly the tears caused by suffering. I am not suggesting that we stop reflecting and deliberating on the virus that has taken hold of our lives. But in order to rightly understand our present sufferings, we must reflect upon Christ’s.

The Gospel reading for Passion Sunday includes the words, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He is not the only one weeping at Lazarus’s death. Martha and Mary are weeping, as is the entire community that is trying to console them (11:31, 33). The story is full of people weeping in the pain of passion. The story of Lazarus is the story of our world—a world of sickness and death, along with the inevitable consequence of mourning and weeping.

And then he makes an interesting but necessary pivot, a pivot away from our contemporary understanding of the story of Lazarus and towards what the early church fathers thought about such a moment.  He continues:

We do well to attend to Jesus’s tears, for it is only by meditation upon his tears that we are able to process our own. Why does Jesus weep? The question is pressing because Jesus cannot possibly be weeping in the same way that Martha, Mary, and the bystanders are weeping. The narrative doesn’t allow us to think that Jesus is mourning the loss of his friend. He has travelled to Bethany with the precise aim of raising Lazarus from the dead (11:4, 11). Hippolytus of Rome adroitly observes: “He wept but did not mourn.”

Why, then, does Jesus weep? He weeps because he meditates upon our passion. Just as we are called to “weep with those who weep” (Rom.15:12), so Jesus weeps with those who weep. (In fact, Saint Augustine suggests that the reason Jesus weeps here is to teach us to weep; this must at least be part of the picture.) Jesus weeps with Martha and Mary, with the Jewish bystanders, and with a world struggling with illness, suffering, and death.

This is, for those paying attention, where Wright didn’t go in his piece earlier in the week, at least not as clearly as Boersma does here:

The church fathers were fond of saying that whatever our Lord did in his incarnation, he did “for our sake.” His weeping is no exception. Jesus weeps “on account of the people standing round” (11:42). That doesn’t mean his tears are fake. Quite the contrary, as we have seen. But it does mean that Jesus’s tears are infinitely dissimilar to ours. They are not tears of impotence. They are the tears of God. And when God weeps, we may be sure our passion is about to yield to resurrection.

The whole piece is worth a read.  It’s also a nice re-directing for those observing Lent or simply preparing in their own way for the celebration of Easter in the context of disconnect and sadness.  It’s a welcome challenge to some of our presuppositions about things.

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