Project Canterbury

Dancing before the Lord
and Other Sermons
Preached in St. Ignatius' Church, New York

by the Reverend Arthur Ritchie

Reprinted from "Catholic Champion."

New York: The Guild of St. Ignatius, 1892.

Sermon XI.
Drying Our Lord's Tears.

"And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not." St. Luke vii., 13.

You will find in all the Gospel no more touching narrative than that of the raising to life of the widow of Nain's son. That unconscious dramatic touch, "the only son of his mother, and she was a widow" makes it peculiarly heart-moving. And then our Lord is pictured in so tender a light; we love to think of Him in the supreme compassionateness of His humanity. We should not like to lose sight of His divinity, for that is our hope of salvation, but it is the blessedness of our religion that we may adore Him in His divinity even while we come into most intimate contact with His humanity.

How simple the words of the text are: "When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said unto her, Weep not." Yet there was reason for her weeping; indeed there is no lack of that in this world. The Master Himself wept more than once in the days of His earthly life.

The circumstances of the tear-sheddings recorded of Him are all most significant. Probably of the agony in Gethsemane those words in the Epistle to the Hebrews are written, "Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard, in that He feared." It is surely wonderful that it should be said He prayed to Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard; while yet we know He died. It opens out our ideas concerning the way in which God answers prayer.

Again on the first Palm Sunday we are told of our Lord that when He was come near to Jerusalem "He beheld the city and wept over it." Of what avail were those tears? He knew the Jews would not repent. He knew the Holy City should be destroyed, His weeping would not save it. Were His tears then wasted? No, for at least they demonstrate the greatness of His love; He could not bear the thought that His own people should reject the salvation so bountifully offered them. By weeping over Jerusalem He illustrated those words of St. Peter "that the Lord is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." His tears take away all excuse from those who say, If God indeed cares for my soul, why does He not make the call to repentance more irresistible? Something like that Dives said in hell, concerning his five brothers yet in the world "If one went unto them from the dead, they will repent." Abraham was wiser; he knew that if those worldly men would not hear Moses and the Prophets, not even one sent unto them from the dead could save them. Our Lord's tears over rebellious Jerusalem show that it was His heart's-desire at any cost to save the world; for this cause He gave His life upon the Cross.

Once more, it is said that the Master wept at Lazarus' grave. We may not think there was anything unreal about His weeping there, though we know He intended in a few moments to turn all the woe of the mourners into joy by calling the dead man back to life. His tears tell us that while their grief lasted--until the hour of His miracle had come--His heart was full of sympathy, His soul overflowed with affectionate tenderness. So does He teach us that not even our smallest woes, our most transitory sorrows are ignored by Him. Though there was no cause in the circumstances of the case to draw tears from His eyes, He would not withhold His sympathy from those who had or thought they had cause for grief.

Surely the widow of Nain had cause. The dead man was her only son and she was a widow. She had lost her husband and that was a grievous blow indeed, but not like this. When he was taken away all the love and hope of her heart were centred in her boy. He was the light of her eyes--now the light had gone out and how hopeless the darkness was! It may have been too that her son had not lived a very good life; she did not feel sure of his state in the world beyond the grave. What if his soul were lost in hell and she could not have the hope of ever seeing him again in the land of the saints! Perhaps there is an intimation of this more poignant woe in the very fact of the restoration of her son to life. Surely for his own sake as well as for his mother's the Lord raised up this young man from the dead, either that he might have another opportunity of repentance, or because there was yet work for him to do on God's behalf in the world. We may be sure in any event that the heart of that widow of Nain was heavy enough and her tears had cause to flow.

And we ought therefore, I think, to take our Lord's words most simply. They were the natural and spontaneous expression of the great compassion He felt for her; "Weep not," He said. And any other kind-hearted person would have been moved to say the same thing under the same circumstances. The words are homely and commonplace enough. We speak them to our sorrowing friends, though we have no idea we can thus stop their tears. But there is an intuition in most people which detects the genuineness of the sympathy of others no matter how trite their consoling words may be. Heart speaks to heart, be there no more than the pressure of the hand, the -quiver in the voice, the shining of a tear in the eye. We say "Weep not" and very likely the mourner only weeps the more copiously because the sympathetic tone has opened a new vein of feeling. We may quite imagine that when our Lord said to this poor widow "Weep not," her tears fell faster than before.

By His holy example then our Master teaches us that we ought to weep for the woes of others, thus showing the genuineness of our compassion, while also we seek to dry their eyes and bring consolation to their sad hearts. Nor does it take a very wise person to discover that this is the panacea for human sorrow. Nothing can soothe the sore heart so greatly as ministrations of love and pity to other sore hearts. The mourner who can go away from the grave of her beloved, and enter into the house of other mourners, saying gently to them "Weep not," will find the peace of God comforting her own heart in a strangely blessed way. Too often in our times of sorrow we do just the opposite of this. We sit alone in the darkened house nursing our woe, taking a certain mournful pleasure in the sympathetic attention of our friends, and perhaps a vague sort of pride in the fact that our sorrow is too deep to be quite comprehensible to any one save ourselves. No doubt each one's own sorrow is peculiarly his own, yet it is also true that our fellows may have experienced as great heart anguish as we.

It is hard for the mourner to believe this at first. We can well fancy the widow of Nain feeling grateful for our Lord's compassionate words, yet thinking in her heart, It is easy for Him to say "Weep not," but how can He possibly understand the depth of my woe, the misery of my desolation. What a mistake that was. Did He not know by experience the agony of human grief, He Who is never said to have even smiled? It may be that His disciples sometimes suspected a little of the load of anguish their Master daily bore through all the years of His earthly life, but they could not have possibly appreciated a tithe of the reality. The moving power of our Lord's sympathy was the ever present grief of His human soul, and the drying of the eyes of mourners was the assuaging of His own mysterious heartache.

So by His example He teaches us that the best solace of our own grief is ministering to others in their days of sorrow and cheering them with the gracious balm of compassion. When however we begin to put this into practice we find it not quite adequate to our needs. Men and women have often dreamed of healing the wounds of their own hearts by surrendering up their whole lives to deeds of mercy for their fellows. It is a beautiful dream, and altogether divine so far as it goes, but it is not quite equal to the necessities of the case. Philanthropy is lovely enough surely, only our benevolence meets with so much rude opposition it is often paralyzed. Those with whom we would sympathize, coldly repel us"; those for whom we have done the most are flagrantly ungrateful; our own zeal flags so after a time, and a thousand things conspire to make our efforts fruitless. We would dry the tears of the world but the world will not permit us; we say in tenderest tones to the mourner "Weep not," and he answers fiercely, Who are you that speak thus to me, what can you know of my grief? It is not possible that mere human philanthropy can heal the aching heart because the root of all our real heartaches, though we may not admit it, is sin, and man's compassion, great and beautiful as it is, is unable to extirpate sin.

But look with me now at the wonderful thing which the Gospel reveals to us. Our Lord so literally asks us to follow Him, to imitate His example, that He puts Himself in our place in such wise that we may say to Him "Weep not," and be permitted to dry the tears of the Son of God. There can be no doubt that the doleful tale of the woes of our Lord has been made known to us in order that our sympathy for Him may be aroused. The Church by no means undervalues the importance of touching the hearts of the sons of men by the pathetic spectacle of the Saviour's woes. For this cause she keeps the crucifix always before the eyes of her children, that they may never forget the crown of thorns, the cruel nails, and the spear thrust in His holy side.

It might be thought there was a little unreality about this, for inasmuch as our Lord can never suffer more, inasmuch as His holy Body is now impassible and glorious, men ought not to be taught to think of His woes. The answer to this is that He indeed suffered once for all, but He suffered actually for all the sins of all the human race, by anticipation indeed for all who should come into the world after His death, but not on that account any less truly. Therefore it becomes a matter of to-day for every one of us.

As He suffered by anticipation for us who were not then born, so may we carry ourselves back in thought to the actual moment of His cruel death, and meditate upon Him indeed in all His pains for our sake. It is a matter in which the element of time, past and present, can be lost sight of, and the soul gazing on the crucifix can cry, My Saviour is suffering for me. So do earnest-hearted ones in the secret places of their communings with God prostrate themselves at the feet of the Master brought to their minds as hanging on the cross, there to pour out all the mournful burden of their woes. As they stay on in the silence of that sacred Presence the thought of their own griefs dies away in the realization of the unutterable pains of the Son of God. Here, cries the soul, is the tragedy of the world, here is anguish before which all merely human anguish pales into nothingness. Oh the woes of the dear Christ! How they appeal to one who stops a little while to dwell upon them. The widow of Nain mourned for her only son, our Lord mourned for human creatures dearer to Him than ever was earthly son to earthly mother, and those for whom He mourned were dead and being carried out to burial in eternal banishment from God. Who pondering these things, gazing upon the crucifixion of the Son of God, is not moved to cry "Weep not "?

It is a good thing to feel devout; it is most important as a starting point in true religion, but it is an empty nothing if it be not followed up by deeds of devotion. We should not have thought so much of our Lord's compassion, let us say it reverently, if His word to the widowed mother "Weep not" had not been succeeded by the word to her son, "Young man, I say unto thee, Arise." For He had the power to do deeds of compassion as well as to utter its gracious language. If only we had that power, one says, if only we could wipe away the widow's tears in His mighty fashion. See then how God has overturned the natural order of things, putting Himself so completely into our place that He seems only to have human power while we are filled with that which is divine. He can but restore to life the dead body, we can raise the dead soul; He could dry but the eyes of one of His creatures, we can dry the eyes of the Son of God.

Why does He weep? Because our dead souls are being carried out for burial in hell. Would we dry His holy eyes? Then let us by deeds of repentance raise our dead souls to life again, and then deliver them to their Maker. The Church is not willing that we should forget the passion of our Lord because she is sure this will move us to repentance more powerfully than any other thing. For very humanity we shall be constrained to cry "Weep not", and then for very consistency moved to put away out of our lives those things which make Him weep. By raising her son to life the Master brought joy to the mourner, and gave smiles where before had been sad tears; by repentance we may transform the Master's crown of thorns into a diadem of heavenly light, the nail-prints in His hands and feet into scars of beauty and prints of love, the gaping wound in His holy side into a mirror flashing forth all the unspeakable treasures of the heart of God.

You can see then for yourselves, dear friends, what reality of holy living all this requires. Just as it is idle to say "Weep not" to the mourners of this world if we lift not an hand to dry their tears, so much more is it idle, altogether despicable to say "Weep not" to the Master hanging upon the Cross if we strain not every power and avail not ourselves of every grace to eradicate sin from our lives. It is our repentance alone which can dry the tears of the Son of God. You may say Even if I give Him no more cause for sorrow still He will have to weep for the sinners who will not repent. Quite true, but just in the same way, in spite of all the earthly tears one dries by deeds of mercy, there will remain in the world, so long as it shall last, a mass of sorrow that cannot be relieved. Nevertheless we shall have done our part, and for that we shall be accepted. So every penitent sinner truly turns the sorrow of our Lord into joy even though that Lord may still have to mourn for thousands who will not repent. Every penitent sinner indeed seems to have taken on himself a divine function, for while the gentle Master is drying the eyes of His servant, that servant is in his turn wiping away the very tears of God.

Project Canterbury