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April 17, 2014

Weeping with Those Who Weep

The encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdalene [recorded in John 20:11-18] reminds us to take seriously one crucial New Testament ministry — the ministry of weeping with those who weep. This is important. We can become so absorbed in our own pain and the stories behind it that we do not see the tears of those around us.

We forget that the risen Christ, who meets us in our tears, calls us to embody his presence in a deeply wounded world. He calls us always to follow him to those places where people are struggling and in need and to share in his ministry of wiping away their tears. One way to accomplish this task is to weep with those who weep.

How, you may be wondering, can we do this? The answer is simple but not easy to implement. We begin by learning from Jesus. What would Jesus do if he were in our place?

We watch him take the initiative and reach out to Mary in her tears. We listen as he asks her to put her weeping into words. We observe as he listens without judgment or condemnation to the story she shares. Then, in dependence on his Spirit, we learn how to follow in his footsteps as we meet and interact with those who suffer in our midst: how to take the first step in getting closer to others in their pain, how to ask those questions that will help them to discover the voice of their tears, how to listen with respectful attention and interest to what they say. As we go about learning these ways of weeping with those who weep, we participate in the resurrection practice of wiping away the tears of others.

I witnessed this type of resurrection practice a few weeks ago. I was preaching in a church in Cape Town and noticed a man crying. After the service I saw one of the local leaders, an internationally recognized author and theologian, go across the sanctuary and speak to the weeping man. I joined the rest of the congregation in another room for refreshments. When I returned to the sanctuary about an hour later to fetch my Bible and sermon notes, the two men were still sitting together, the one listening intently and the other speaking. From a distance I could see that the first man had stopped crying.

Later that day I had lunch with the leader and his family. I asked him about his encounter after the church service.

“What happened between you and that crying man?”

“I saw him sitting there weeping; so I went across, sat with him, and asked if he wanted to speak about it,” he answered.

“Where did it go from there?”

“His story just poured out. In all my years of ministry and listening to people, I have seldom come across a story of such intense pain and misery.”

“Were you able to be helpful?”

“There was nothing practical I could do,” he responded. “But the one thing I asked was whether we could meet again for him to tell me more of his story.”

“Do you think that will help?”

“I don’t know for sure. But I’m convinced that new life will come when he has been able to tell his story fully to someone who will listen.”

This leader was sharing in the ministry of weeping with those who weep. Do you see how similar his actions were to the way in which Jesus reached out to Mary Magdalene in her tears?

First of all, the leader was aware enough to look beyond himself. He was not preoccupied with his own needs or with his own group of friends.

Second, he took the initiative and approached the person in need.

Next, he asked him to share his story of struggle and listened to it. He didn’t provide pat answers or offer the person easy solutions. Rather, he gave this desperate person room to speak freely and openly about his pain.

And lastly, he assured the man of his ongoing care and concern. Four simple steps, but steps that made it possible for this caring leader to become a wailing wall for someone who needed one.

Ideally, this process demonstrates what the church needs to be like — a community where we can come together, tell our stories, share our pain, and find hope again.

This article is an excerpt from pages 33-37 of Hope Beyond Your Tears: Experiencing Christ’s Healing Love by Trevor Hudson. Copyright © 2012 by Trevor Hudson. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Upper Room Books.
 
Trevor Hudson is part of the pastoral team at Northfield Methodist Church in Benoni, South Africa. He travels widely and leads conferences, workshops, and retreats in a variety of settings.
 
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