Every Tear (All Saints Sunday)

November 4th, 2018, Pastor Galen

Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 21:1-6a

“[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes” — Rev. 21:4.

Some of have tears that flow frequently and uncontrollably for seemingly little to no reason. Others of us might find that we can cry only when we’re by ourselves or when we’re with people we are very close to, people we know we can completely trust. Still others of us might struggle to ever cry.

According to an article in Medical News Today, there are actually numerous health benefits to crying:

  • Crying has a soothing effect, aids in sleep, and improves our vision.
  • Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which helps people relax.
  • Shedding emotional tears releases oxytocin and endorphins that make people feel good.
  • Tears in response to stress contain a number of stress hormones and other chemicals which could reduce the levels of these chemicals in the body.
  • Crying helps to kill bacteria and keep the eyes clean as tears contain a fluid called lysozyme which has powerful antimicrobial properties
  • Crying has an interpersonal or social benefit as it rallies support from the people around us.

There’s no shame in crying, despite what some of us have been taught. In fact, there are many times when it is completely and utterly appropriate to cry. The death of a loved one or a close friend. The loss of a pet. When we receive bad news, or when we’re feeling stress or desperation.

Crying is a way that we let loose our inward feelings or our pent-up emotions. Often when we experience the loss of a loved one, our first response is shock. The tears do not come until later. When we finally do cry, it often is a breakthrough moment. It’s a moment when we have finally come to grips with our loss, or when we’ve finally stopped trying to hold it all together. It might happen when the funeral planning tasks are completed, or when we finally feel safe enough to let others comfort and hold us.

There are, of course, other reasons why people cry other than sadness. There are tears of joy, tears of empathy, tears of anger, and tears of frustration. Often we try to hold back our tears, especially when we don’t want others to know how we’re feeling. But tears give a physical expression to our pain, or sadness, our happiness, or joy.

Revelation 21 provides a beautiful and fascinating foretaste of the new heaven and the new earth. The Holy City, the new Jerusalem, will come down out of heaven from God, “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). God will dwell with people, “They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21: 3). And then we have this beautiful promise, that God will “wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 21:4, a quotation from Isaiah 25:8).

Notice that God doesn’t reprimand the people for crying or for feeling sad. God doesn’t rebuke or scold them for shedding tears, or tell them to “toughen up.” Instead God wipes their tears away. God meets them where they are, in their sadness, and mourning and grieving, and God comforts them. God acknowledges the pain they experienced, the hardships they endured. God sees, God knows, and God cares.

The act of wiping away tears is such a loving and tender gesture. It’s an intimate, gentle expression of love. In order to wipe away someone’s tears you have to be in close proximity to them. You have to touch them. You have to be with them in their moment of grief.

The idea that God will wipe away our tears means that God knows us intimately, that we can feel safe with God. God will be with us. We will be God’s people, and God will be our God.

Future and Present

While this seems to be primarily an expression of what will happen in the future, we find that it also displays the type of relationship that God desires to have with us now, the way that God wants to interact with us, and us with God.

The God who will one day wipe away our tears is also present with us in our pain and suffering now. God is especially close to us in our grief. Psalm 34 says thatThe Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Perhaps this is why Jesus says “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

All Saints Day

Today is All Saints Sunday, the day that we remember all those who have gone on before us — both in the distant past, and in the recent past. Some of us have lost loved ones this year, and during our Communion Service later this morning we’ll have an opportunity to say their names out loud as we remember and reflect upon their lives and on their passing.

It’s also a day to remember the saints who have lived throughout history — those faithful followers of Christ who gave their lives in sacrifice or service to Jesus, who inspire us through their example to live more holy lives, who modeled what it looks like to live a life of faith and integrity.

Saints were not perfect people. Saints were regular, everyday people like you and me who allowed God to work through them. In fact in the Bible, all of the people of God were referred to as “saints.” The word “saints” refers to “holy ones, set apart, consecrated or dedicated to God.” Saints are people who have dedicated their lives to Christ, who have remained faithful to the end.

So many of those saints who have gone on before us sacrificed much so that we could be where we are today, and it is good and right to feel honor and gratitude and respect for those who have gone before us, those who have paved the way, and those who paid the ultimate cost in order to proclaim the Gospel and advance God’s Kingdom here on this earth.

Looking Forward

But Revelation reminds us to not only look back, but also to look forward to the future, when we will be reunited with our loved ones, when we will gather together with all the host of heaven, with people from every nation, tribe and tongue around the world, to praise the Lord together, when God will not only wipe away our tears, but take away the very cause of grief — sickness, death, loss, and pain (Rev. 21:4).

We can look forward to that day because we too have experienced God’s love, grace, and mercy. We know that we are not special in and of ourselves, but we have been set apart and made holy because of the work that Jesus did for us, by dying and rising again. We are recipients of God’s mercy and grace, just like those saints down through the ages, and so we too can be agents of God’s healing and redemption in this world. As we admire and respect those who have gone before us, so too we seek to set an example for those who will come after us.

When we look at the world around us, it can be hard to feel any hope at all. Political strife and divisions, economic uncertainties, and environmental instability all threaten to bring things to a horrific and terrible end.  

And yet our readings today remind us that in the end, all will be made right. That God will wipe away our tears, that “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4).

It’s difficult for us to imagine a world without death or crying or pain, since it’s all we know. Revelation shows us that there will be a return to the way things were supposed to be, the way God created the world to be. The old will pass away, and God will make “everything new” (Rev. 21:5)

I think “saints” are people who live into that future reality here and now. They are people who live and work to make God’s new creation a reality, who strive to make the world more just and peaceful. Saints know that we can’t do it on their own, that we need God’s help. Saints don’t do it for the fame or glory, to be thanked or recognized. They just believe that God’s way is the best way, and that if they want peace on earth it has to begin with them.

So as we celebrate the saints who have gone before, let us also join in with all those saints, and let us live in hopeful expectation of the world that is to come, where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. And let us at the same time seek God’s Kingdom here and how. Let us ask God to form us into the type of people that future generations will want to emulate, people who point others towards Christ through word and deed, people who live into the simple yet hopeful reality that God is with us and that in the end God will make all things right.