Excuse the interruption

‘Jesus wept’ – John 11:35

‘Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way’ – Time by Pink Floyd

A consequence of living through a Pandemic is that we can become half a shade braver.

Each Monday morning at 8.15am my voice is heard by a captive staff in a school campus briefing. During ‘remote’ learning and Victoria’s stage 4 Lockdown we have been gathering virtually for some news for the week and a time of reflection. There is the customary and universal call to ‘mute your mic’ and the awkward entry of participants forgetting to turn off their screens and the remainder of the group busily working out how to inform them or not inform them!

This last week I told a story about shedding an unexpected tear during our recent Secondary School ‘Battle of the Bands’ event. Given the absence of faces, feedback and feel, from my captive unseen audience, I shared my story of tears and confessed that I didn’t actually know why I cried. It could have had something to do with tiredness, monotony, isolation, memories, knowledge of the student band members or maybe it was simply the lamenting tune of Pink Floyd and the aptly named song ‘Time’. Quite understandingly, my unexpected confession was difficult to follow for community news, so we left it with the mystery of whether the chaplain is well and whether someone should give him a call? The truth is I rarely cry. It is not that I can’t or I am a slightly grey Australian male, rather, my professional vocation as a minister and chaplain has trained me to make space for others to grieve and share yet struggle to give space for myself. Sadly, saying the words of committal at my own parent’s funeral left me in silence and not tears.

Humans enter the world with tears and they even become part of our primary means of communication. As a parent I worried about the tears of my young children yet welcomed their cry as part of being human. So when did tears become a symbol of shame? It is good to cry we are told yet they are often swept away and sometimes seen as a burden to others. Without knowing the often Shakespearean dramas of suburban households (including my own), I suspect many a tear has been swept away during COVID-19 for self-preservation, stemming the burden, and even guilt, ‘be positive others are worse off than us’.

Back to the virtual confession. So, an uncomfortable 25mins past and 8.45am came; the email inbox began to become bold, and title of ‘Thanks’ and not ‘Are you ok’ filtered in. Colleagues shared their story of tears, of those experienced and those observed. Striking, was the ordinariness of the occasions shared, feelings of everyday absence, tiredness, boredom, fear and anxiety about tomorrow.

Whilst the research tells me it is good to cry I take greater comfort from the revelation ‘Jesus Wept’. Yes, the shortest verse in the Bible. Why did Jesus weep? Well like my tear during ‘Time’ explanations are helpful yet tentative. We read that Lazarus, the brother to Mary and Martha, was dead. Jesus was very close to this family. Mary was the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment and wiped them with her hair (John 11:2). Martha had previously welcomed Jesus into her home, although she was distracted with first century hospitality (Luke 10:38-42). When Jesus heard the cries of Mary and Martha to intervene and saw the sadness of the people around Lazarus grave, the scriptures tell us Jesus was deeply moved and wept. Jesus wept because he experienced in his full humanity the pain of love and at that present moment the absence of a friend. Some also observe that his tears may reveal a realisation that he too must walk in the path of human mortality and suffer death however temporary its sting would be.

Quite simply and profoundly we might say, Jesus wept so that one day our tears would cease.

‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’ (Revelation 21:4).

Ryan Holt Written by:

Ryan is the Head of Chaplaincy at Caulfield Grammar School in Melbourne, Adjunct Lecturer in Chaplaincy at Ridley College and is currently completing a doctorate with the Australian College of Theology, exploring the culture of service in Anglican schools today.

One Comment

  1. Peter Waterhouse
    August 23, 2020

    A very timely article, Ryan. I think most chaplains have had a moment where we simply want to weep, as we have lost so many of the “bread and butter” facets of our ministry, which give a shape and and rhythm to our vocation – it’s been almost 6 months since I last led a face-to-face chapel service! However, we will certainly develop a stronger sense of both empathy and sympathy, as a result of this testing time.

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