The tone was set right from the start, as the Choir sang the hauntingly beautiful Introit from Durufle's Requiem with sensitivity and passion. The music, words, silence, drama, place, people, and sacrament integrated together, providing a door through which our souls could enter the heavenly places, and tearing open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. How many had this experience I don't know, but I've rarely had so much or such positive feedback. Of course we can never plan to capture the presence of God in this way; it's pure gift. All we can do is set the scene as best we may, through prayer, through musical rehearsal, through liturgical preparation; attend, attentive to God in Christ; and if the tears flow, accept them as the work of God to bring us healing, repentance, consolation, or whatever our need may be.
Today is Passion Sunday - Passion meaning suffering, and specifically the suffering of Jesus. The mood of worship shifts from the self-discipline and self-denial of the last few weeks towards a conscious journey with Jesus to the Cross - and beyond. Next Sunday we'll shout both 'Hosanna' and 'Crucify him!' and during the week after, stripping bare the altars and following the Stations of the Cross, we'll experience the place of desolation and paradoxical hope. 'Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease.'
So we face both the beauty of sacrificial love and the tears it evokes. Tears of Jesus at the grave of his friend Lazarus. Tears of the woman washing his feet. Tears of Peter at cockcrow. Tears of the blessed Mary as her heart was pierced by a sword. Tears of Mary Magdalene as she visited the grave. Tears of the sorrows of the ages which resonate with the sorrows of our hearts and of our world - this vale of tears.
But as today's Psalm reminds us, 'they that sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy.' So shall it be.
Drop, drop, slow tears, and bathe those beauteous feet,
which brought from heaven the news and Prince of Peace.
Cease not, wet eyes, his mercies to entreat;
to cry for vengeance sin doth never cease.
In your deep floods drown all my faults and fears;
nor let his eye see sin, but through my tears.
(Phineas Fletcher, 1582-1650)