by Father Mark Goldasich
Could it be that I’m turning into a real softie?
This Sunday, Palm Sunday, the Gospel will be a reading of the Passion account. One line in particular really gets to me. When we heard Luke’s account last year, a lump formed in my throat during the scene right after Peter denied knowing Jesus for the third time. Luke writes: “Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (22:61).
What did Peter see in the Lord’s face? I don’t believe it was a look of rebuke or anger. I suspect that it was instead, a look of utter sadness or deep disappointment. I imagine that Jesus might even have had tears in his eyes, something that so touched the heart of Peter that “he went out and began to weep bitterly” (Lk 22:62).
I used to be embarrassed at my tearful reaction to this passage, but now I see it as an appropriate way to enter into Holy Week. It is a week for tears.
We shed tears of sadness on Palm Sunday. As we honestly look at our own lives, we discover that we are both the betrayed and the betrayer. There are times when we feel the isolation and disappointment that Jesus felt, when we’re misunderstood, ridiculed, taken advantage of, or forgotten by those we most care about.
Sadly, too, there are times when we’re the betrayer: When we’ve hurt others, let them down, not been attentive to their needs, denied them comfort and affection. Betrayal can’t help but bring tears to our eyes, no matter which side of the equation we’re on.
Next come tears of service on Holy Thursday. It’s not easy or glamorous to wash people’s feet. It’s dirty, backbreaking, often unappreciated, labor. Sometimes that’s what we encounter as we serve others. The demands on our time, energy and talent seem relentless. Sometimes no matter what we do, it’s perceived as wrong or not enough.
As a recent author noted, ministry is “messy,” and that messiness brings on tears — of weariness or frustration.
Good Friday’s tears come from loss and grief. One of my parishioners, who recently lost a spouse, asked me, “When will the tears quit coming?” My answer is: When you stop missing and loving the person who died.
In other words, never.
I get choked up at every Good Friday service as people come forward to venerate the cross. Etched on so many faces are their struggles, worries and burdens — the tears from the crosses they carry.
Lastly come the tears of Holy Saturday evening, the Easter Vigil. These are tears of joy. As the psalmist says so clearly: “You have changed my mourning into dancing” (Ps 30:12).
All of us experience emotionally draining times. In such situations, I find comfort and perspective in this story:
The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed for God to rescue him. Every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none came. Exhausted, he eventually built a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements and to store his few possessions.
One day after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened; everything was lost. Stunned with grief and anger, he burst into tears crying, “God, how could you do this to me?”
Early the next day, however, he awoke to the sound of a ship approaching the island. It had come to rescue him.
“How did you know I was here?” the weary man asked the rescuers.
“We saw your smoke signal!” they said.
The moral of the story is: It’s easy to get discouraged. We shouldn’t lose heart, though, because God is at work in our lives, even amid pain and suffering. So, the next time our little hut is burning to the ground, remember: It may just be a smoke signal that summons the grace of God. (Adapted from a story attributed to Bill Greer in “Chicken Soup for the Veteran’s Soul.”)
Don’t be ashamed to shed tears this Holy Week. While some may see them as signs of weakness, as Christians we know they indicate humility. We can’t, and need not, tackle life all on our own. Jesus walks with us, reminding us that his story — and ours — ends with light, life and hope.
Now that’s something to get choked up about.