Sunday, March 14, 2010

Don't cry?

As Jesus was approaching the city of Nain in southwest Galilee, a funeral procession approached from the opposite direction. The deceased was a young man, the only son of a widow. One can imagine the depth of sorrow emitting from the grieving mother and the large crowd with her.

Jesus first words to her were those that I counsel others not to say to a person in grief. In fact, the words may be among the most detrimental that we can speak, “Don’t cry.” Yesterday one of my closest friends in ministry died, Dr. Jerry McKinney, pastor of Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. Even as his son was speaking with me on the phone yesterday, tears streamed down my face. They do again this morning as I write. They doubtless will again Tuesday when we share in the memorial service.

Would I dare to say to Jerry’s family, “Don’t cry? Why would I try to stop their tears? The word “cry” in the New Testament is akin to the word “to break.” That is the image that we often use isn’t it? She broke down crying. When our heart is breaking, tears flow from the brokenness. And somehow those tears are therapeutic. Over time, they wash over us until the grief becomes tolerable. I am not saying the hurt goes away. I am not saying that we “get over it.”

That is another sad statement that I sometimes hear spoken of persons in grief. “He just needs to get over it now.” Reality is that we do learn to live beyond the sorrow, but we do so with a new normal. That new normal includes an empty place, a part of us that is missing. Often the metaphor is used of a stone wheel that suddenly has a section broken out from its circumference. It can still roll, but every time it passes the place where the broken piece used to be there will be a rough bump. Continue rolling long enough and the friction will ultimately begin to smooth out the rough place. Then the jolt becomes less pronounced. But, the wheel will never again be the same as it was before the pain, because something dear will always be missing.

So was Jesus wrong to say, “Don’t cry?” Oh no, he was not wrong, because He gave the broken piece back alive again. His touch restored life. His heart went out to a grieving widowed mother, and “Jesus gave him back to his mother.” Her grief turned to joy in that moment.

For us, we know that Jerry McKinney is more alive today than He has ever been. He is with the Father whose love He experienced and whose Words he proclaimed. But we are separated from Jerry for a season. And so we cry. We cannot see him, touch him, sit and talk, laugh together at his stories. His family cannot sit with him watching the ocean, feeling its breeze blow across their faces. Grandchildren cannot sit in their grandfather’s lap. There is an empty place that cannot be filled by another. The grief is real. But, so is the confidence that our friend still lives and that one day we will celebrate life together again. Then, and only then, there will be no more tears.

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