‘A respectable church’ with no tears – no thanks!

Published by Jason Shiels on

Mary of Bethany

One of the most natural physical reactions to the emotional pain and distress of various life circumstances is to ‘cry’ or shed ‘tears.’ Scientific studies have shown that crying can have a soothing effect such as relieving stress, enhancing mood, and even easing both emotional and physical pain.

Beyond science we see the Biblical record replete with weeping as a most human of reactions in the release of emotional anguish. Jesus famously wept in reaction to the grievous loss of his friend Lazarus and in so doing demonstrated that crying tears in His divinity was in no way juxtaposed to his humanity. The Psalmists too saw no issues in venting emotion (‘My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”’ Psalms 42:3).

It seems however that the Western church, somewhere along the line, developed the notion that it would be shameful to show any degree of emotion in a public setting. Tears in church are more often seen as displays of pitiful weakness that must be hidden for lonely private anguish, sadly divorced from the comforting presence of community. Even tears of heart-felt celebration and exuberance or weeping in the face of the transcendent wonder of God are rarely witnessed any more in the sterile environment of too many Western church ‘services.’ What I wonder is being ‘serviced’? Are we ‘servicing’ some idealised version of ourselves? Are we ‘servicing’ our reputations or pretending that God thinks more of us when we hold ourselves in stoic Western reserve? How long will we allow shame or pride to be the defining factor in how we ‘behave’ in church? We know intuitively there is something wrong with all of this reserve and stiff-upper-lip but who is brave enough to break cover first and allow a dose of truer humanity to break in?

Mary of Bethany shines forever as a memorial of one who cared less for her reputation and much more for her Lord. She was surrounded by cynics, most notably the embezzling and money-minded Judas. However, her attention was upon the Saviour. She only had eyes for Him. The drama of intermingled fragrance and tears served up an intoxicating picture of true worship bar none. Luke’s Gospel describes her as ‘a woman in the city who was a sinner’ (Luke 7:37) and yet not even entering the home of a legal minded Pharisee, someone else’s dinner event, could deter her from audaciously entering the house and falling at the feet of mercy. It is estimated that the ‘nard’ was worth about a full year of wages to her, yet she recklessly anointed the feet (and head) of Jesus in a show of unfiltered adoration that will forever challenge and serve notice to cold dead orthodoxy. Those who are forgiven much love much. Those who think that their own merits stack up frown upon such extravagant shows of abandonment and……emotion. Yes emotion. I wonder, were they tears of joy or tears of repentance? I would say both! For joy flows from deep repentance. Worldly sorrow borne of regrets brings death to the soul, yet the glorious liberty of grace found in Jesus brings life and surpassing joy,

‘and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and she wiped them with the hair of her head, and began kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume’ Luke 7:38 NASB

Let us awaken from the nightmare of cold inhibited notional worship. Like Mary, if our eye is single upon the one who loves us with a scandalous love then we will become less and less automated and robotic in our responses. We are freed to a truer humanity. Laughter and tears will not be a stranger to us either, for they more normal to the human design than stoic refrain. Where are the tears at the altar? Where is the laughter among friends? Where is our focus? What is the object of our worship?

Dream with me for a company of the real. A place of honesty. A people where perfume and tears are authorised to flow and mingle upon the feet of the Lord. A place where damaged people can find hope and let go. Where dividing walls are torn down between us and God and with one another too.

A ‘respectable church’ with no tears – no thanks!

Jason Shiels
April 19th 2021

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