ur text is telling us that even though we will struggle in this life ("Tribulation" KJV, "ordeal" NRSV) eventually, in heaven, we will be O.K. Beyond the veil of tears there will be No More Tears. The beasts of this world will be bested by the Lamb! Jesus who died will dwell with us and will protect and provide for us. No more hunger, thirst, or scorching sun; and, no longer and reason for tears of sadness.
Most of the time this beautiful hoped for poetic imagery means very little to our everyday lives of hustle and bustle. But there are times when it means everything--- its all you have.
As one of my Internet friends was preparing to preach on one of the "heavenly" texts for this fourth Sunday after Easter, he received a frantic call from a young church member to accompany her to check on her mother and grandmother who had not answered her phone calls. Arriving at the house, across from their church, they found a suicide note in the living room. The pastor went into the bedroom where the young womans 50 year old mother had murdered her 80 year old grandmother, and then committed suicide. Soon TV crews appeared and the church facade was featured on the Seattle evening news.
A regular contributor to our cyber preaching network, Don soon posted the news to our group. His initial posting shocked us all: "Friends, my life and the life of our church has been wrenched around and the cute little sermon I was working on is as useful as wet tissue paper. Sunday will be horrible. The whole church is convulsed with pain. Sundays scriptures are all appropriate, yet seem today to be almost too facile: Mommy can kiss the pain and make it all better, and wipe away every tear from our eyes. Feels too easy today."
Because he is a seasoned veteran of many campaigns, we all knew that he would soon recover, and it turned out that his sanity actually was in his signature line, or tagline that we sometimes permanently add after our signature as a kind of expression of our personal faith. His was a quote from our esteemed emeritus professor of preaching here at Emory, Fred Craddock:
"To be Christian is to cease saying, Where the Messiah is there is no misery and to begin to say Where there is misery there is the Messiah. The former statement makes no demands; the latter is an assignment."
The murder suicide was on Tuesday and by Friday my friend was expressing some really clear insights into the tragedy. "If heaven is real it has to begin in this life among our church family who act as lower case m messiahs to each other and to the hurting world around. Where there is pain there will be the Messiah and the messiahs." He went on, "I suddenly have an image in my mind of Christians as white blood cells rushing to the site of the infection." They will have a healing this Sunday in Seattle!
We who possess the promise of heaven where, "God will wipe away every tear... must never allow ourselves to lurk long on the sad side during this life. However sometimes its almost like there is a committee that meets after worship to decide how to put a negative spin on stuff. We could allow the Son of God to shine on our darkness and gloom. However, church folks have been known to appear as clouds blocking out the sunshine: Pity-Partyers.
I was about 12, and since I loved to follow my Dad around, I was at Wednesday Night Prayer-Meeting. One of the young men in our community had been involved in an accident and had received a severe brain injury. Doctors had painted a dim picture to the family; but, as the story hit the streets it was embellished from ear to ear. During the prayer request time the reports seemed to get worse and worse, each one topping the next: "I hear hes dead already and will never get better." "The doctors said it was like his brain was dropped out a ten story building onto a sidewalk!" Then the worse statement, just before they began to pray, "It would be better if the Lord would take him on."
My comment to my Dad on the way home from church that night has become a family funny: "Daddy, if I ever get sick, dont let those people pray for me!"
In spite of the negative prayers of the people, our young neighbor did recover from his injury and has had a good life. I also think to community of faith learned something about living beyond tears through the event.
Through our Christian faith we are bathed in the promise that things will eventually work out for the best: Even out of the tribulation that inevitably occurs. Our Scripture, theology, oral tradition, and especially our hymnody fills us with this hope. Although we currently stand on Jordans stormy banks, we cast a wishful eye to Canaans fair and happy land, and the foretaste of glory that we experience gives us grace to allow Him to scatter night away (U.M. Hymnal, 724). We are a people who are together marching to Zion. We are children of the heavenly King and we speak our joys abroad. The heavenly sweets are yielded to us before we reach the heavenly fields, or actually walk the golden streets (U.M. Hymnal, 733). Even sightless Fanny Crosby could sing of "visions of rapture bursting on her sight." She felt that she was "watching and waiting, looking above, filled with his goodness, lost in his love." This theme became her very positive witness to millions. (U.M. Hymnal, 369).
"Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from? These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God... and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them... and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (v.13-17, NRSV).
Will we allow grace to occur within us now and then?
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor