Tuesday, 20 April 2021
ONE of the first ways that we have of communicating is through tears.
Is there anything that gets a baby more attention than tears?
Is there anything that can command complete, immediate devotion more than a torrent of tears?
Is there anything that can makes adults feel more dismal, daunted, desperate than the wailing of an infant?
Our baby’s tears can bring us to tears as well.
In earlier cultures the tears of mourners were gathered into something called a lachrymatory, or “tear-catcher,” a specially created container for human tears of grief or sometimes of joy.
And there is a church overlooking Jerusalem called the Church of Dominus Flevit, which means Jesus Wept.
The church is built where Jesus is supposed to have wept over the city and on each corner of the church is a tear-catcher.
I had the privilege of visiting this church in 1986.
The tears of those who were mourning the dead were believed to have extreme powers — powers of solace, sustenance, spiritual healing. There were beautiful, delicate tear bottles for women and more masculine cigar-shaped tear bottles for men.
Traditionally, all were designed with an evaporation chamber. When the last of the gathered tears finally evaporated, the official mourning period was over.
In Roman times women were paid to cry into tear bottles, so that as many filled bottles as possible could accompany the extensive mourning processions that befitted any important, powerful figure.
In typical Roman fashion, more was always better, whether one was dead or alive. Even the most humble burial ceremony involved the presence of paid mourners.
In Jewish culture the bare minimum required two flute players and professional wailing woman. Anything less was an insult to the family name.
The grief industry in the first century — just like that of the 21st century — was big business.
How times change. With the current coronavirus crisis there are many, many more funerals. I was booked in to take a funeral for an elderly lady this week but due to the age of the lady’s husband there will now not be a service.
Instead the hearse will drive slowly past their home, the husband will stand at the window and show his final act of love for his wife from inside their home as, due to his age and medical condition, he has been advised not to leave the house.
Does this mean that the funeral is any less poignant or any less of a loss for the family? Of course not. It is just that times are changing and currently changing quickly.
In Italy people are being buried with no funeral service as there are so many deaths that the state cannot cope. This does not mean that those who have died are unloved, just the opposite. It means that they were loved and that the living are honouring the dead by staying away from gathering so that the virus cannot be spread.
We need to remember, we must remember the story of Lazarus. Jesus wept over the death of his friend, even though he knew that he would bring him back to life.
We will weep over many people in the coming weeks and months but we must remember that all those who die are still alive in Christ and will be resurrected on the last day.
May the souls of the faithfully departed rest in peace and rise in glory.
13 April 2020
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