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April 1, 2023

This is a Holy season for three of the world’s monotheistic religions.  The Holy month of Ramadan began on March 22, following the sighting of the moon over Mecca.  Ramadan is thirty days of fasting from dawn to sunset for followers of Islam who are of able body and sound mind.  Passover is a major Jewish holiday celebrating the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt.  This year Passover begins on the evening of Wednesday, April 5, 2023, and continues through the evening of Thursday, April 13, 2023.  

For Christians, Holy Week begins today.  It is a time for somber contemplation on the passion of Jesus Christ.  The events that unfolded between Palm Sunday and Good Friday were filled with foreboding.  Imagine the angst, the fear, and the insecurity for those closest to Jesus.  Perhaps Christians can begin to understand those days of uncertainty and dread as we live through this time.

By Friday evening of that week, Jesus had been denied, betrayed, arrested, sentenced, crucified, and buried.  His tomb was sealed.  To those early followers of Jesus, it looked, for all the world, like their faith and hope had been dashed, crushed beyond recovery.  Then came Sunday morning and the resurrection!

The Easter season is a time of sharp contrast.  It brings a dichotomy of emotions.  The traditional stations of the cross lead us down our own Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrow.  According to the Gospel accounts, the feelings of Easter morning were not immediate joy.  The first visitors to the tomb of Jesus found the grave empty.  It looked like the case of a missing body requiring a Crime Scene Investigation, CSI Jerusalem.  Then, emotions shifted to those more appropriate for Halloween.  A ghost-like figure began making appearances.  It took a while for the disciples to recognize Jesus.  Once they did, the celebration began.

Holy Week is a time for music that inspires contemplation.  Clare and I enjoy two classical renditions of the passion of Christ by Johann Sebastian Bach.  The “Saint John Passion” was composed in 1724 for a Good Friday vespers service.  Written in 1727, the “Saint Matthew Passion” is regarded as the most magnificent setting of the passion story in Western music.  “The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross,” an orchestral work by Joseph Haydn, is another favorite.  For Easter Sunday, “Messiah” by George Frederic Handel is renowned.

Were I to make a Holy Week playlist, I would include “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and the African American spiritual “Were You There?” There are many other cherished old hymns about the cross.

We tend to think of Jesus as devoid of all emotion, an impassive Christ, always calm and serene, never angry or sad.  That view fits the heresy known as Gnosticism which held that Jesus was not really human.  It is supported by the popular idea based on a children’s Christmas carol, “the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.”

The gospels show Jesus of Nazareth as fully human and Jesus as Lord fully divine.

We see Jesus as a person with a sense of humor.  The Quaker writer Elton Trueblood in his book The Humor of Christ points out the wit of Jesus in his use of Aramaic hyperbole.  In his beautiful paintings, the artist Richard Hook depicts Jesus experiencing the full range of human emotions.  One of my favorites is the smiling Jesus

Jesus could get angry.  The Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians counsels, “be angry but don’t sin.” Anger itself is not a sin.  One vivid example is Jesus’ righteous indignation toward the religious leaders who objected to his healing of the man with the withered hand.  Perhaps the best example is Jesus’ cleansing of the temple.

Jesus experienced depths of sorrow that moved him to tears.  Today we begin Holy Week, a week that is tear-stained.

I sat in the cafeteria of a local hospital having coffee with three physicians.  I have learned that even in their own difficult emotional circumstances, physicians tend to be clinical.  One of the doctors had recently suffered a profound loss, the death of his wife following an extended illness.  He commented, “I know now why we are equipped with tear ducts.  They are intended to be used.”

Another doctor at the table sipped his coffee and added, “I read a study that indicated that if we don’t cry enough, we develop sinus problems.”

After a moment of silence, I asked, “Have you ever heard Rosie Grier, former NFL player for the Rams, sing that song on Sesame Street, “It’s Alright to Cry?”

The third physician commented, “They don’t teach us that in medical school.”

The psalmist turns a remarkable phrase to convey the notion that tears are to be treasured.  “You put my tears in a bottle.” (Psalm 56:8).  The verse implies that God values our tears so much that he keeps them in a bottle.

Following our son Erik’s death nearly twenty-three years ago, Clare gave a necklace to our newly widowed daughter-in-law, June.  A small antique bottle, a lachrymatory, was fastened as a pendant on a chain.  The lachrymatory was an appropriate present.  The word lachrymatory is derived from the Latin lacrimal, meaning tear.  These small terra cotta or glass vessels have been found in Roman and Greek tombs.  They were bottles into which mourners dropped their tears.  The bottles are shaped like a flask with a long small neck and a body in the form of a bulb.

During the Civil War, women from both the North and the South were said to have cried into tear bottles and saved them until their boyfriends and husbands returned from battle.  Their collected tears would show the soldiers how much they were adored and missed.

Lachrymatories have once again become popular.  They are created by artists who work in glass in many different cultures.  References to the power of the tear bottle occur even in contemporary literature.

Rebecca Wells’ book The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood explains the gift of a lachrymatory: “In olden days, it was one of the greatest gifts you could give someone.  It meant you loved them and shared grief that brought you together.” [Page 348, HarperCollins, 1996]

When Clare gave June the lachrymatory, they agreed that the only problem with the tiny bottle was that it was simply not large enough.  

I am astonished when well-meaning people instruct grieving people not to cry.  If we cannot weep in the time of deep sorrow, then when?  In the early stages of grief, there are times when tears flow uncontrollably.  At other times, we can better monitor our crying and even choose our own time and place to weep.  This is not to say that our tears should be postponed indefinitely.  The truth is that sometimes it is just inconvenient to cry.  Clare gave up wearing mascara after Erik died. 

My wife, Clare, has been my companion in both joy and sorrow.  Her clear insight and honest wit put things into perspective I appreciate.  On the issue of choosing a time and place to weep, Clare said to friends, “I cry in the shower.  Somehow being in the flow of warm water gives me permission to cry.  It’s the best place to cry alone.  It’s just not as messy as crying any other time.”

Though we may not keep them in bottles, our tears are a gift to be treasured.

Jesus had his heart broken many times.  Jesus was able to Cry

Today on Palm Sunday, we enter the most important week of the Christian year.  Holy Week is the dramatic conclusion to the earthly ministry of Jesus.  Holy Week is stained with the tears of Jesus and those who followed him.

Let me point out a few passages to you.

At Bethany, at the tomb of Lazarus

 When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

 Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

                                                         (John 11:33-36)

Jesus sheds tears of empathy.  Paul instructs the Christians in Rome “weep with them that weep.” (Romans 12:15)

The Lord is weeping tears of grief, but not as those who have no hope.  His very next action is to raise Lazarus from the grave

The prophet Isaiah points out that the Messiah empathizes with our tears.

He was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief….

Surely, He has borne our griefs

And carried our sorrows; (Isaiah 53:3-4)

Jesus Enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.  (Luke 19:36-42)

Here Jesus weeps over the human condition – injustice, willful neglect of the poor, religious legalism, and political recalcitrance.  

In the Garden of Gethsemane

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  (Hebrews 5:7)

As usual, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.  He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down, and prayed,  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.

                                                                                                      (Luke 22:39-44)

Jesus was struggling with destiny, to be sure.  But he is weeping for the sins of the world.  This sorrow is the reason he died on the cross.  These tears are for my sin and yours.  Jesus is weeping for us.

Christians take these tears of Jesus seriously.  And there is the hope of resurrection ever before us.

“Look!  God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for former things have passed away. …Behold, all things are new!”

                                                                                          (Revelation 21:3-5)

Clare joins me in wishing all of you a blessed holy season.


Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, storyteller, teacher, pastoral counselor, and retired pastor.

He can be reached at

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week consider volunteering or donating to your place of worship or your favorite charity. Thank you.

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