As we do every year we began this day by taking our place in the triumphal entry, singing our hosannas, and carrying our palms. The triumphal entry, palms, and hosannas have in many ways come to characterize this day and the beginning of Holy Week. That’s not, however, what I want to focus on today. Today I want to talk with you about a different entry into Holy Week. I want to talk about tears and weeping as our entry into Holy Week.
For some of you the mention of tears and weeping is enough to cause you to begin welling up with emotions, memories, and tears. Others of you begin stiffening up, fighting back the emotions, memories, and tears. Some of you have eyes that are dry and well defended from tears and weeping. Others of you have eyes that are dry because you’ve cried yourself dry. You’ve run out of tears even though the reasons for weeping remain.
You probably didn’t come here today expecting or wanting to hear about tears and weeping. The experiences behind our tears and weeping are neither easy nor comfortable but then neither is the experience of Holy Week.
Maybe you’re wondering and asking, “Why not the triumphal entry? Why not the palms and the hosannas? Why focus on tears and weeping?” Well, let me ask you this. What does St. Luke have to say about all that? After all, his account of the gospel (Luke 19:28-40) is the one we hear today.
- What does Luke say about the palms? Nothing. The people following Jesus neither carry nor throw down palms along the way. True, they spread their cloaks on the road but there is no mention of palms. Luke’s gospel account is the only one that does not mention palms or branches.
- What does Luke say about the hosannas? Nothing. Yes, the people praise God with a loud voice but there is no mention of hosannas. Luke’s gospel account is the only one that does not mention the hosannas.
- What does Luke say about tears and weeping? Nothing, if you read only today’s assigned portion of the gospel (Luke 19:28-40). That’s why I took the liberty of extending our first gospel reading to include verses 41-46. The very next verse after today’s assigned portion says, “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19: 41). Luke’s account of the gospel is the only one in which Jesus sees the city and weeps.
Luke does not describe the usual triumphal entry that we are used to. What Luke describes might be more accurately called the tearful entry. If tears and weeping are Jesus’ entry into Holy Week maybe tears and weeping should be our entry into Holy Week. I’m not saying we are wrong to sing our hosannas and carry the palms but in the context of St. Luke’s gospel tears and weeping just seem to be a more authentic, meaningful, and faithful entry into Holy Week. It’s also a more vulnerable entry and vulnerability is always at the heart of Holy Week.
The tears and weeping, however, do not end at the city gates of Jerusalem. They flow through Luke’s account of the entry narrative (Luke 19:28-46) as well as the passion narrative (Luke 22:14-23:56). St. Luke records three episodes of weeping in today’s two gospel readings.
First, “As [Jesus] came near and saw the city, he wept over it.” Jesus’ tears formed a river of love, compassion, and heartbreak flowing between him and the city. We know that city to be Jerusalem but it’s not about only a particular city. It’s more about a condition. It’s about our ignorance of “the things that make for peace” and blindness to “the time of [our] visitation from God.” So yes, it is Jerusalem but it’s also Ankara, the Ivory Coast, San Bernardino, Paris, Beirut, Charleston, and a thousand other places of violence today. It’s about prejudice against the immigrant, promotion of income inequality, and the destructiveness of fear and hate based politics. It’s about our refusal to love our enemy and sometimes even our neighbor. Jesus sees it all and he weeps.
The second time Luke records weeping is concerning Peter. He denies Jesus three times, the cock crows and, Luke tells us, Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62). His tears are the recognition that he has seen the reality of his life. He has not only denied Jesus, he has also denied himself. I’ve wept those kind of tears and I’ll bet you have too. They are tears confessing that our life is not what we want it to be and that we are not who we want to be. They are the tears that tell us we are lost and the tears by which God calls us home, and the way home always goes through Holy Week. Thank God for bitter weeping.
The final episode of weeping that Luke records is on the way of the cross. Among the crowd following Jesus were some woman beating their breasts and wailing for Jesus. Jesus turned to these women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for you children” (Luke 23:28). Jesus isn’t speaking to just a group of women. Through them he is speaking to the entire city and to us. The kind of weeping he implores is not grounded in self-pity or selfishness. Rather, it is weeping that recognizes and names our situation and assumes responsibility for it. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I have wept for you, now weep for yourselves that your tears and my tears may mingle and become one.” It’s as if our eyes now weep with the tears of Jesus. That’s what it means to enter Holy Week through tears and weeping.
A tearful entry into Holy Week means we must first see and name the reality of our lives and world. We cannot turn away from the experiences and sources of our tears. This is our Holy Week work and it is difficult and painful work.
Some of us weep tears that are wet and run down the cheeks. Others of us weep tears that are dry and never moisten the eyes. Wet or dry, they are both real. Both express the same truth; our heart has been pierced. Jesus’ heart was pierced when he saw the city. Peter’s heart was pierced when the cock crowed. The women’s hearts were pierced first at the recognition of Jesus’ situation and then at the recognition of their own situation.
Sometimes our heart is pierced with sorrow, grief, and death. Sometimes it’s guilt, regret, or disappointment that pierces our heart. Other times our heart is pierced by the pain of the world and the suffering of another human being. Some hearts are pierced with the loss of what could’ve been, dreams that didn’t come true, wishes unfulfilled, or promises unkept. Other hearts are pierced by burdens and the weight of life. Fear, change, and the uncertainty of life pierce many hearts. Whatever it is and however it happens we’ve all had our hearts pierced. We’ve all wept.
Every time I come to station thirteen on the Way of the Cross I feel my heart pierced once again. It’s the station in which Jesus is taken from the cross and placed in the arms of his mother. I look on that station and I see my wife and our son. I weep over his death and I weep for her grief and loss. I weep that I am powerless to fix it or make her feel better. My heart is pierced and the tears flow. I’ve stood with some of you at the deathbed or graveside of your loved one wanting so much to say the right words and having nothing to offer you but my tears. My heart breaks and tears fall when I see photographs of refugee children. Like Peter I have wept over my broken promises, things done, and things left undone. Sometimes I want to pray for the pain of the world but there are no words, only tears. Some nights my heart is pierced by exhaustion and I weep thinking about how soon tomorrow will arrive and how long the to do list is.
Those aren’t just my stories. They are your stories as well. I don’t think I am all that different from you. I think you know exactly what I am talking about. The facts or circumstances may be different but the tears are shared.
So tell me about your tears; the ones you’ve cried and the ones you’ve denied, the ones that never seem to end and the ones you need to weep but just aren’t there, the ones that scare you and the ones you can’t explain and don’t understand. In what ways has your heart been pierced? What’s behind your tears and weeping? What makes you weep?
Whatever your tears and weeping may be about let them become your entry into Holy Week. To push back our tears or to wipe them away is to deny a part of ourselves the power of this Holy Week and the joy of Easter life. Let this Holy Week transform your tears into the holy waters of baptism; waters of cleansing and release, waters of forgiveness and healing, waters of rebirth and new life.
“As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it.” So begins our tearful entry into Holy Week.