I imagine most of us have done some weeping the last few weeks. It seems appropriate, therefore, to think a bit about tears this morning. And I’m going to begin by quoting a passage from the Book of Esther:
The king’s scribes were summoned at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day. And an edict was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded concerning the Jews, to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, one hundred and twenty seven provinces, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, and also to the Jews in their script and their language.Esther 8:9
What’s that have to do with the price of bread then? you may ask. Well, you tell me. In fact I quote the passage only in order to ask a question: what makes this verse special? Answer: it’s (allegedly) the longest verse in the Bible.
And this is the shortest:
Jesus weeps at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. Today is Passion Sunday, the beginning of Passiontide. We’re approaching Easter again, and again by way of the Cross. The story of Jesus and Lazarus is the gospel reading for Passion Sunday: John 11:1-45. And there it is, verse thirty five…
… Jesus wept.
Isn’t this shortest verse in the Bible in danger of getting lost in the crowd? Surely, it’s going to be dwarfed by these longer, more important verses about kings and scribes, edicts and satraps and governors? Sometimes we can feel two words long in a world full of important and complicated and overpowering sentences. We can feel small, insignificant, weak, vulnerable, ‘at risk’.
Jesus wept. Will it be overwhelmed, swallowed up? I don’t think so. It maybe the shortest verse in the Bible, but arguably it’s the most important. In just two words, John 11:35 sums up everything that’s extraordinary about Jesus: on the one hand, his not being extraordinary at all. This is a man weeping at the loss of his friend. And on the other hand, this is God weeping. Reflect on that for a moment: God weeping.
‘Jesus wept’ tells us something vital but often overlooked or misunderstood: God is not sympathetic. God’s being sympathetic is one of those assumptions we make when we wonder how an all good God could allow evil and suffering in the world, like viruses. If God were sympathetic, we sometimes say, God wouldn’t allow us to suffer like this. And we make a good point. Well, goodish.
Only goodish because sympathy is – partly – an expression of human power and satrap-style strength. The sympathiser is inevitably set over and above the one for whom sympathy is felt. No, God is empathetic; God is compassionate. He suffers with us, weeps with us, dies for us. His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Embarking on Passiontide, let’s recall not only the familiar events of the old story as we approach Easter; let’s do something different in this different year: let’s turn Passiontide into Compassiontide, recalling that, as we suffer and struggle and weep together, God suffers and weeps with us. And he knows and shares all our tears:
You, God, keep track of all my sorrows.Psalm 56:8
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
Imagine how infinitely loving that God is. I’ll leave you with the Giotto-angel-voiced Emmylou Harris singing All my Tears, a great contemporary spiritual:
You are the long and short of it,
the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
As we prepare to hear again the story of His Passion
who came to us, wept with us, and died for us:
deepen our faith, soften our hearts, and wipe away our tears;
unify us in compassion for one another,
as You have compassion on us,
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord and Saviour.