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Although my voice sometimes catches in my throat during the funerals I officiate, I rarely shed tears. The tissue box at the pulpit is more there for the bereaved family members who come up to speak about their loved one.

I am open to the tears, if they come. I don’t think it is inappropriate for pastors to show their emotion. God knows how much I have loved many of the people that I have buried. The tears just don’t come.

However, I have occasionally gone to funerals at the other Christian Reformed congregation in my city. Our congregations are connected through history and friendship, and so even though I may not know the person who died, I go to support those in my congregation who are grieving.

And I weep. The tears don’t stop. Friends pass me tissues from their purses (I never think to carry them. It’s the same with napkins at potlucks. I always forget.). 

Why am I crying? I think to myself. I don’t know this man. I don’t even know his family. And yet I cry.

I don’t think it is necessary to ascribe a source of these tears, but I like to think that I am crying the tears that I haven’t been able to shed at the funerals I have officiated. The tears are also my remembrances of my own family members who have died. And perhaps, I cry mostly in anticipation of the time when my husband and children will say good bye to our parents (if all the deaths happen in the ‘right’ order).  

I don’t think I’m the only one who cries hardest at the funerals of those I am the least or (at least) less connected to. Time folds at funerals and our losses (the ones we remember and the ones we anticipate) gather up. A funeral for one person can open release valves for the tears we hold for many people. 

These tears are sacred. Early Syrian church fathers, Ephrem and Simeon, proposed that tears might be a sacrament of the church. Perhaps weeping helps us to know God much better than thinking or studying.

So I let the tears come.

And I also try to remember, in each funeral that I officiate, to name in prayer the many losses that are coming to the surface for those in the room.

I know that not everyone enjoys a good cry. Some of us wish we cried less. But when I cry hard, I experience a longing that is both satisfying and unsatisfied at the same time– a longing for the new order of things, when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, because this old order will have been completely gathered up, finally folded, and put away for good.

Maranatha.

Heidi S. De Jonge

Heidi S. De Jonge is the pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario. She and her husband, Tim, a CRC chaplain, parent three grade school daughters. Heidi enjoys cake decorating, cycling, and digital scrapbooking.

4 Comments

  • Good work, Heidi; you may find this Hopkins poem speaking to your point, too:

    Spring and Fall
    BY GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS
    to a young child

    Márgarét, áre you gríeving
    Over Goldengrove unleaving?
    Leáves like the things of man, you
    With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
    Ah! ás the heart grows older
    It will come to such sights colder
    By and by, nor spare a sigh
    Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
    And yet you wíll weep and know why.
    Now no matter, child, the name:
    Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
    Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
    What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
    It ís the blight man was born for,
    It is Margaret you mourn for.

  • Todd Z says:

    “Listen, I tell you a mystery….” Some of my favorite words in Scripture. Words that catch in my throat at every funeral I officiate. Well said, Heidi. I give thanks for the image of sacramental tears.

  • JoAnne Zoller Wagner says:

    “Perhaps weeping helps us to know God much better than thinking or studying.” I have found this to be true. I weep in response to acts of kindness probably more often than for feelings of loss or sorrow.

    I also thank you for the suggestion of tears as a sacrament of the church. They often signal to me an inbreaking of the Spirit.
    And like you, I cannot always pinpoint why I’m weeping, but maybe that is not necessary. It is a kind of release and spiritual response.
    For these reasons, I appreciate churches which leave a box of tissues in each pew, and not just for funerals.

    I think I feel a poem about weeping coming on.

  • Douglas MacLeod says:

    Heidi, thank you. Similarly, I find that in officiating at our monthly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, although I am always moved deeply, I don’t weep in gratitude, as it seems I need composure and my voice. However, on that rare occasion (e.g. vacation) when I am served communion, the tears flow before I know it. It is a blessed relief — and another reason why having a weekend off once in a while is therapeutic in ways that lay people may be unaware.

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