Detail from Descent from the Cross by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden
Matthew 23:27; Luke 13:34 NRSV
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
The tears which flow from our eyes from time to time are illustrations of the tears which Jesus shed as he looked down upon Jerusalem and lamented, “How often I would have gathered you to myself as a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not”. They are signs of the pain in God’s heart when even one sheep goes astray. Tears are an acknowledgement of the Fall, but as they flow from a truly-repentant heart, they are also the first signs of hope. The dam of sinful resistance has collapsed and the Water of Life can now flow. – Steve Harper, The Water of Repentance
In Christian symbolism Jerusalem is everyplace and the ultimate place. Jerusalem is the conflicted city within our hearts and the hoped for heavenly city of promise. Jerusalem is Earth herself. We lament over the world and our continual warfare and our ongoing destruction of land and seas and air. We are the holy place that kills prophets, healers, sages and innocents in the complex chaos of our passions.
– Suzanne Guthrie, Lament Over Jerusalem
Click here for a deep reflection and call to lament by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled For the Hurt of my People.
Extended quote by Barbara Brown Taylor from The Christian Century (2/25/86)
If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed –but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand. …
… Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first; which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter.
She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her — wings spread, breast exposed — without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart . . . but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.
Extended quote by Jim Harnish from It’s Enough to Make You Cry
Take a good look; a look that penetrates the self-protective shields of social acceptability; a look that goes deeply into the heart; a look that is a finite expression of the infinite love with which God looks out on our world, and it’s enough to make anyone with a heart cry.
It’s what the prophet Jeremiah felt when he looked at his world and wrote, “If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.” (Jeremiah 9:1)
Read the headlines or watch the evening news and we know why Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying, “If they only knew the things that make for peace.” (Luke 19:42)
We weep for residents of Tel Aviv fleeing to bomb shelters and for Palestinians who have nowhere to hide from the attacks that are destroying their homes in Gaza.
We weep for thousands of children making their way across our border only to be caught up in our hopelessly confused and politicized immigration system.
We weep for millions of people who are homeless refugees because of the conflicts in Ukraine, in parts of Africa, and as a result of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We weep for the lives that have been lost in jets that have been blown out of the sky.
And we weep — the way Jesus wept beside the grave of his friend, Lazarus – for the deeply personal wounds, hurts, disappointments that sooner or late come crashing in on every one of us.
With Jeremiah, we ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” (Jeremiah 8:22)
I also know how Jeremiah felt when he said: “If only I could flee for shelter in the desert/to leave my people and forget them.” (Jeremiah 9:2)
I’d probably not choose the desert. I might take a house on the beach or a cabin in the mountains. I might just turn off the television, cancel the newspaper, go to a movie and stop paying attention to the pain and suffering around me. Sometimes we’d all like to flee.
Weep or flee? Which will it be? The truth is that there are times for both. There are times when I need to weep for the wounds of the world around me. And there are times when I need to accept Jesus’ invitation, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)
So, where is God in all of this? It may be when Jeremiah hears God say, “I am going to refine them, for what else can I do with my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7)
I’m not suggesting that God causes the terrible things that happen in order to teach us a lesson. I’m a Wesleyan, not a Calvinist. Most of the things that make us weep are a direct result of human decisions that are an outright contradiction of the will of God. Our sinful choices are enough to make God cry.
Although God does not cause everything that happens, God is able to use anything that happens to refine us, the way gold and silver are refined. Instead of making us bitter, it can make us better.
The Spirit of God is present in our tears to break our hearts with the things that break the heart of God, to show us the ways in which we contribute to the pain of the world, to form us more fully into the likeness of Christ, and to enable us to participate in God’s healing work in this world. If there is a “balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul” it will be found in the hearts, lives and actions of faithful people who become the agents of God’s love in the lives of others.
Perhaps the Christ-shaped alternative is not just to weep or to flee, but to become God’s healing presence in the world. At least it’s worth praying for.
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