Rev. Nick Reed
Wipes Away Every Tear
Last month an interview between Late Night Talk Show Host Stephen Colbert and Journalist Anderson Cooper went viral on the internet. The subject between the two men was not humor but grief. Both spoke eloquently and held back tears as they talked about their grief over their respective mother’s death. Anderson Cooper shared with Stephen Colbert that “you can’t have happiness with out suffering loss.”
Their words were a reminder that grief truly is a normal and common thing we all experience at some point in our life and faith journey. The emotions grief brings may consume us and cause us so much sorrow and pain it can even alter the way we exist and the way we interact with the world.
The most common grief we all experience is the grief we feel when a loved one has died. In these moments of grief we may feel so hurt and broken we may start to question things, doubt things, and become angry of a new reality. Of course, we grieve lots of others things too. Maybe we grieve change in status in our relationships, grieve things happening in the world around us. Grief is a feeling of despair when something is no longer as it was. Grieving is a normal human thing. We all express our grief differently, some are very visible and express their grief openly, other grieve quietly, others might ignore or suppress their grief.
Today’s Jeremiah text is about grief. Throughout the Old Testament we might be familiar with texts where God is portrayed as angry and even judgmental, but in today’s text we experience God grieving with tears. As this text intersects our lives and the various grief that might surround us we are reminded that it is okay to grieve the hurt and brokenness we experience in our life and faith journey because God grieves and laments the world’s hurt and brokenness too.
God is speaking through the weeping prophet Jeremiah to express God’s grief because things are not as they are suppose to be. God created the world good, and humankind in God’s image, and yet God’s children are not acting like they were created to act. Their own free will and decisions are causing lots of pain in the world. God’s children are consumed not with goodness but with their idols. Their idols are allegiances to political power not God’s power. Today’s passage is the beginning of many verses of lament and grief. Specifically we hear today God’s grief and lament over God’s lost children who have sinned and made poor choices, “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.”
While these decisions by God’s children are sinful; these acts of free will bring consequences that God’s people bring upon themselves. For the people of Judah those consequences of idols and political allegiances brought invasion and destruction. As destruction surrounds them God’s children think God is punishing them for this invasion and God is no longer with them. The truth of the matter is God did not abandon them, they veered from God. That is what God is grieving in today’s passage, the people’s idolatry of power and political allegiances has generated its own disaster.
God continues to proclaim, “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.” The hurt God’s people are feeling, and hurt God is feeling is also a word in Hebrew that means broken or brokenness. There is a lot to feel broken or crushed about.
God is almighty enough to commission humankind to have dominion over all that God created, yet human kind has not been the kind of steward of creation that God had hoped. God is not grieving over an individual's action but humankind’s actions of corporate sin. Their culture is sinful and broken and is one focused on idols and power, and not on God and their call to be faithful caretakers of God’s creation.
As you process your own feelings of grief maybe your grief today is over humankind’s actions and you are full of prophetic weeping like Jeremiah and grieving and lamenting the world’s hurt and brokenness. In Jeremiah’s day a nation made poor choices that brought destruction and sadness.
Maybe you grieve our communal poor choices that you see in our newspapers and tv. Maybe you grieve that the Amazon rainforest, a place that supplies 20% of the world’s oxygen, continues to burn due to an 80% increase in deforestation from last year. Maybe you grieve because nations are at war. As another city in our state grieves the death of a police officer to gun violence, maybe you grieve how gun violence is causing pain, suffering, and heartache in our nation. Maybe you grieve that hate crimes have increased since the last reported year by 17%. If we spent time today I am sure we could create a long list of communal grief to our world’s brokenness. As grief fills our hearts, whatever it is we remember God grieves with us, “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.”
While the weight of this text and the emotions it conjures for us is about grieving the brokenness and hurt of the world, we must remember that God’s story does not end with grief. God loves God’s children so deeply that God is grieve stricken over Judah’s hurtful decisions, but there is a reminder of the healing God offers God’s children in their grief. In the text it comes in the form of rhetorical questions, Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” While those lost in their grief might not be sure what the answer is to these questions, the answers are found in the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God through Jesus Christ is the provider of the balm that heals our brokenness, hurt, and grief. While this text is about grief it is also a reminder of healing that God provides for the loss and brokenness we experience in the world.
In Christian faith as we confront our grief, whatever the grief we are experiencing might be, scripture lifts up that our created community can be the balm we need for healing. While there is no denying that our created community is the source of some of the grief we are experiencing, it also the source of our healing. In the gospel of Matthew Jesus is real clear that his presence is alway in our relationships and community with one another. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…I was sick and you took care of me.”
Our relationships and the created community we are called to care for is our balm. Our relationships are our source of healing from our grief. It is in God’s created community where our sorrow and pain is met with hugs and fellowship. When we are among God’s created community we are nurtured and our tears are wiped away and our voice of despair is heard. For those grieving the communal brokenness around us and overwhelmed by the hurt and brokenness God’s children are causing in the world, it is in the presence of our community that we find accountability, nurture, justice, mercy, empathy, and love. Our relationships provide us a new energy to go and serve and be God’s balm for the world in need.
A week ago in Baird Hall the Auburn community had an event to recognize that we as a community can be a balm towards healing in the midst of brokenness and hurt. The Beloved Community Event led by Auburn University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and hosted by our church was an event to gather the community together for intentional listening for how to love your neighbor in the midst of terror, racism, and xenophobia. As people of all ages, races, and faiths gathered together to share a meal with one another, we were asked to engage in conversation and listen to each other’s story around the dinner table. I am sure everyone there would agree that we did not solve the problems of the world but it was a great step towards remembering that relationships guided by empathy and relationships guided by listening can be the balm of healing and love.
Our relationships matter and are our source of comfort and healing for our pain, sorrow, and loss. Our relationships also remind us that we are called to love and serve a hurt and broken world. Our relationships remind us we are loved when we might think otherwise.
In response to Anderson Cooper’s words about grief that “you can’t have happiness with out suffering loss”. Stephen Colbert quickly responded to Cooper saying, “in my faith tradition that is the great gift of the sacrifice of Christ.” While the Gospel lifts up the healing we can find in our relationships, the other balm that is offered to a broken and hurt world is the gift of suffering love revealed at the cross and the empty tomb. This balm is one that offers true healing and wholeness. This balm offers spiritual healing for our weary and grieving souls.
We experience this spiritual balm the most when we hear words of comfort after the death of loved ones. Words of hope like our first reading from Revelation. “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”…Our HOPE of God’s eternal love and kingdom is our balm for our grief.
As we nurture and care for each other in our relationships may we all help each other point to the cross and tell the story of God’s love for the world, a love that is our true source of healing. A love that wipes away every tear.