A phrase I have heard my mother use any number of times in my lifetime is “I’m laughing to keep from crying”. Sometimes when emotions overcome us, we use other emotions to keep them at bay. Sometimes the emotion we are feeling is one that we are afraid of expressing because it will be too strong for us to “keep it together”. Emotions are powerful. And crying in particular is one that can come upon us unannounced.
Recently a friend and I saw the astonishing musical “Hamilton”. It is based on Ron Chernow’s voluminous biography of Alexander Hamilton (the paperback edition is 731 pages). Hamilton is the guy on the ten-dollar bill—the guy who pretty much invented our economic system. Hamilton’s life was both heroic and tragic. He was brilliant, and yet made some really stupid decisions. He was killed in a duel with then Vice President Aaron Burr—at the same place where Hamilton’s own son was earlier killed in a duel. All of this story is told with music, much of it with the energetic infections rapid rhyming of “hip hop”—but with a few “ballad” type songs that are absolutely beautiful.
Twice I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. One was at a key moment in the beautiful song that Hamilton and his wife Eliza sing, together, and to each other. He has had an affair (one of those stupid decisions, which led to more stupid decisions), and it hurt her deeply, and understandably significantly strained their marriage. And yet in this song “It’s Quiet Uptown” they are drawn together and reconciled with their shared grief at their son’s death in the duel—and when she sang the word “forgiveness” I burst into tears at the sheer beauty of the song and the astonishing power that forgiveness of an unforgivable thing can have. It touched me deeply, and in thinking about it later I realized that it was because of the sheer grace that forgiveness expresses, particularly in that kind of circumstances.
The other time was the very last song, after Hamilton’s own death in a duel. His friends and political adversaries pay him respectful tribute, and yet the bulk of the song is sung by his wife Eliza, who would live another 50 years after her husband’s death. She spent much of that time tirelessly working to assure that her husband’s legacy would live on—she lovingly pored through the 10,000 pages of his writings to get them into a condition that they could be published, and that later generations would recognize his brilliance. And in the song, she reflects on that, and on her own life (she founded the first orphanage in New York City and worked to raise money to build the Washington Monument) with the recurring lines “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story”. I cried the whole way through that one, and reflected on those very words—recognizing our responsibilities to tell the stories of those whom we have valued, that others may value them too. I of course thought of my father.
In our Scriptures for Sunday, when the women cry as Jesus is being led to his death, we understand from our own experience about those kind of tears. When Jeremiah says “You shall say to them this word: Let my eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease, for the virgin daughter—my people—is struck down with a crushing blow, with a very grievous wound” we know what that feels like too, even if we have never ourselves been carried away in exile—even if we have never ourselves lost pretty much everything. We have all suffered losses so as to know what that kind of lament feels like.
Tears matter. Crying them matters. Being in touch with the emotions that lead to tears matters. Even Jesus wept, at the death of his friend Lazarus. God blesses our tears.
OLD TESTAMENT Jeremiah 14:17-22
17 You shall say to them this word:
Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,
and let them not cease,
for the virgin daughter—my people—is struck down with a crushing blow,
with a very grievous wound.
18 If I go out into the field,
look—those killed by the sword!
And if I enter the city,
look—those sick with famine!
For both prophet and priest ply their trade throughout the land,
and have no knowledge.
19 Have you completely rejected Judah?
Does your heart loathe Zion?
Why have you struck us down
so that there is no healing for us?
We look for peace, but find no good;
for a time of healing, but there is terror instead.
20 We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord,
the iniquity of our ancestors,
for we have sinned against you.
21 Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
do not dishonor your glorious throne;
remember and do not break your covenant with us.
22 Can any idols of the nations bring rain?
Or can the heavens give showers?
Is it not you, O Lord our God?
We set our hope on you,
for it is you who do all this.
GOSPEL Luke 23:26-31
26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28 But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’