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20 & 21 February 2021 (Pastoral Page) LENT: A TIME TO WEEP AND MOURN

By Ps Lim Wei-en

But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. (Ezra 3:12)

While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly. (Ezra 10:1)

There is a time for everything…

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)

In Ezra 3, the passage that was the focus of the sermon last weekend, we read of the older priests, Levites and family heads of the post-exilic community weeping as the foundations of the second temple were laid. It is not clear from the text why they were weeping. Was it because these senior leaders, who had in their younger days witnessed the destruction of the first temple, were seized by intense gratitude to God for how he “fulfilled his good promise to bring them back to this place”? (Jeremiah 29:10) Or were their tears instead tears of sadness and loss as they realized this second temple would never match the splendour of Solomon’s temple, and that things would never be as they once were? Perhaps it was a combination of both emotions? We are not sure. Whatever they were feeling, it overwhelmed them to the point where they wept aloud.

Reading this passage, I was reminded of other times when tears were shed in the post-exilic narratives – Ezra wept for the sins of the people (Ezra 10:1) and Nehemiah, for the broken state of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4). This in turn made me ponder on:

  • What is the place of weeping in the Christian life?

  • When was the last time we mourned for the state of our spiritual lives?

What is the place of weeping in the Christian life?

There are many reasons why we weep. We may weep because of joy and gratitude. When we realize how good God has been to us and how little we deserve his goodness, this realization can result in happy tears. More often though, we shed tears because of grief and sorrow. When a loved one passes away, when life hits us with disappointment after disappointment, when we feel betrayed, when people we care for do not seem to care for themselves, tears are a natural response.

For those who weep because of negative circumstances, the Bible does not tell us to stop crying and withhold our tears. In fact, we are assured that God sees our tears and hears us when we cry (cf. Gen. 21:17; 1 Samuel 1:10-11, 20; 2 Kings 20:5; Psalm 6:6, 9; Psalm 56:8). We are assured that he has compassion for us and wants to comfort us in our sadness (cf. Psalm 34:18; Luke 7:13; 2 Cor. 1:3-4). We are assured that Jesus is familiar with sorrow (cf. Isa. 53:3; John 11:35; Luke 19:41; Matt. 25:38), and that God will one day wipe every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4).

From this, we know that God will not insulate us from sorrow in this life but has promised to walk with us in our weeping. And, as “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28), so our tears also serve a purpose in his plans for us. It may be through them that he reveals his fatherly love for us in ways we would otherwise not know, and it may be through our tears that we grow in compassion for others, learning to “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Weeping can therefore be a spiritually formative experience if we learn to weep rightly.

When was the last time we mourned for the state of our spiritual lives?

Besides weeping because of joy or grief, there is a third reason why we could (and should) weep – remorse. When the sheer ugliness of our personal sin or the sin of the Christian community is revealed to us, and when we realize how much God is grieved by such sin, our hearts ought to well up in remorse and we ought to mourn.

On this, James bluntly writes:

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (James 4:8-9)

For me, this past week was a time of mourning when the misdeeds of a personal hero of faith in my younger days was exposed after an investigation was carried out. Because enough has been written about his transgressions and the hurt it has caused the evangelical community, I will not elaborate on this further. However, one of the outcomes of this exposé was to prompt me to ask myself: have I become too comfortable with sin in my own life, so as not to deal relentlessly with it? Have I treated God’s holiness too casually and not reckoned with the gravity of my own unholiness? May these be questions we reflect on as well, so that we never become too hospitable with our sin and the sins of our community.

Lent, which began last Wednesday, is a season of preparation for Good Friday and Easter, in which we are invited to examine ourselves spiritually:

  • What sins have we given in to?

  • What idols are we bowing down to?

  • What loves have we directed our hearts to, other than God?

  • What or who, besides God, has become our ultimate source of hope and comfort?

As we do this, and as the Spirit convicts us of our sins and the sins of our community, may we rightfully weep over them, as Ezra did (Ezra 10:1). Then, as godly sorrow leads to godly repentance, may we cling on to the forgiveness we have in Christ and be emboldened to live holier lives for his glory.

May this Lent be a time of godly weeping and mourning for us all.

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