10.31.21 homily on Revelation 21:1-6a by Pastor Galen Zook
“[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes” — Rev. 21:4
Some of us 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.
I cry during movies in which two individuals or groups of people who were fighting with one another decide to put their differences aside and forgive one another. I’ve cried at the funerals of loved ones. And there have been a few times when I’ve cried in public – and felt a lot of shame in doing so.
But 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, and so crying 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 physical expression to our pain, or sadness, our happiness, or our joy.
Jesus himself cried in John 11:35 when his friend Lazarus passed away. The Gospel of John tells us that when Jesus saw Lazarus’s sister Mary weeping, “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (John 11:33). And when he said where they had laid Lazarus in the tomb, “Jesus began to weep” (John 11:35). Jesus’s tears were an expression of his sorrow and sadness and his identification with the grief of those whom he loved. In fact, Lazarus’s friends and neighbors remarked, “‘See how much he loved him!” (John 11:36) when they saw Jesus’s tears.
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 God’s people, we read. “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 grief and despair, and God comforts them. God acknowledges the pain they experienced, the hardships they endured in this life. God sees, God knows, and God cares.
The act of wiping away someone’s tears is such a loving and tender gesture. It’s an intimate, gentle expression of love. It’s also something that can only be done in person, when you’re in close proximity to someone. You cannot wipe away another person’s tears from a distance. You have to be right there with them, so close to them that you can touch them.
The visions in Isaiah and Revelation of God wiping away every tear from our eyes look forward to that future day when Christ will return and we will be gathered together with our friends and loved ones and those who have gone on before us. God will be present with us and will wipe away our tears. And we will have no more reason to cry. “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev. 21:4). The former things will pass away, and all things will be made new (Rev. 21:5).
God is Close to the Brokenhearted
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 here and now.
The God who will one day wipe away our tears is present with us in our pain and suffering and and sorrow. We find throughout the Scriptures that God is especially close to those who grieve. Psalm 34 says that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). And Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
Jesus’s interaction with Lazarus’s friends and loved ones demonstrates God’s proximity with us and God’s care and concern for us here and now as well as in the future.
In fact, the story of Jesus coming down to this earth and living among us is the story of God’s future Kingdom breaking into the here and now. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus announced that the kingdom of God has come near. Jesus proclaimed this through his teachings. demonstrated this through the miracles he performed.
In the case of Lazarus, Jesus went on to call Lazarus forth from the tomb in order to show his resurrection power, as evidence of the new life that Christ offers to all, and as a foreshadowing of his own resurrection, and the resurrection that all who have died in Christ Jesus will one day experience. As Jesus said to Lazarus’s sister Martha a few verses earlier, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
All Things New
It’s difficult for us to imagine a world without death or crying or pain as we see depicted in Isaiah and Revelation, since all we know is a world that contains grief and sorrow. We look at the world around us, and all of the political strife and divisions, economic uncertainties, and environmental destruction that we see threatens to bring things to a horrific and horrible end. It’s so easy for us to lose hope.
And yet the book of Revelation reveals that one day when Jesus returns there will be a return to the way things were supposed to be, the way God created the world to be. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4), and God will wipe away every tear. The old will pass away, and God will make “everything new” (Rev. 21:5). Everything will be made right. Peace and justice will reign. This is the hope that we have in Christ. This is what we have to look forward to. This is the world we long for, and pray for and work towards.
All Saints/All Souls
Today is All Saints/All Souls Sunday, when 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 later on in our service we’ll have an opportunity to say their names out loud as we remember and reflect upon their lives and on their passing.
As I think about the hope that we have in Christ, and the future reality that we see portrayed in the visions of Isaiah and Revelation, I can’t help but think that perhaps the people we think of as “saints” are simply people who lived into the future reality that we see portrayed in these visions in the here and now. They were people who lived and worked to make God’s new creation a reality in our world today.
Many of those saints who have gone on before us gave their lives in service to others. As the song we sang earlier proclaimed, they “showed the kingdom coming still through selfless protest, prayer, and praise” (“For All the Saints,” The Faith We Sing, 2283).
Saints are those who prayed, and longed and worked for God’s “kingdom to come, and God’s will to be done,” as we pray every time we recite the Lord’s prayer.
It is good and right to feel honor and gratitude and respect for those who have gone before us and paved the way, and who spent their lives proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ through Word and deed. We can and should be inspired by their faith and their action, and seek to follow their example.
But it’s also important for us to remember that 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 followers of Christ were referred to as “saints.” The word “saints” refers to “holy ones, set apart, consecrated or dedicated to God.” Which in fact is what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Saints, both past and present know that we can’t do it on their own, that we need God’s help. Saints don’t do it for fame or glory, to be thanked or recognized. They just believe that God’s way is the best way, and that if we want peace on earth then it must begin with us, as we allow God to work in and through us.
So this morning as we remember all those who have gone on before us, let us live in hopeful expectation of the world that is to come, when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, when we will be reunited with our friends and loved ones.
Let us be inspired by the example of those who have gone on before us, and may we too seek to be people who pray and long and work for 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 we will be with God. May we long and work for the day when there will be no more sadness, grief, or pain, when all will be made right. When peace and justice will reign, and when God will wipe away every tear.