One of my favorite books I used to read to my children is Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel. It contains a series of sweet, short pieces about a child-like owl and his little adventures in his humble home. My favorite of the tales is “Tear Water Tea.” In the story, Owl decides he wants to enjoy a special hot drink. He sits with his tea kettle and begins to think of very sad things: chairs with broken legs, unsung songs with forgotten words, spoons forever lost behind the kitchen stove, unfinished stories from books with missing pages, clocks that have stopped with no one to wind them, uneaten mashed potatoes, and pencils that are too short to use. With each sad thought, he fills the kettle with tears, and afterward, savors a cup of salty tear water tea.
This simple story has been a powerful reminder to me of how Communion is a joyful celebration of transformation from brokenness to becoming, an experience where we bring the tears we have stored in our hearts to the Lord’s Table, so that we may savor the bitter-sweet satisfaction of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Surrendered Tears, Rest and Restoration
As Christians we have been taught to come to the Communion table worthy and ready to receive the Bread and the Cup; and yet, we are reminded just how undeserving we really are, like the Centurion who said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word…” But that is the beauty of Communion. Christ calls us to come before Him, bringing our brokenness and our battered lives, our trials and our tears, so that we may receive the food that brings us newness of life. As we receive, we partake of the healing our souls so desperately seek.
Believers in Christ have discovered that only when we give our tears to the One who is big enough to bear them, can we find the satisfaction for which we long. Anything else just leaves us empty. We cannot bury our hurts or cover them up. Nor can we wish the burdens away, drown them in addiction, or share our pain with a therapist or a friend in order to find rest and restoration. As we surrender our sorrows and our very lives to Christ in Communion – making our own tear water tea – we experience real and lasting peace.
The Blessing of Tears, The Longing for God
The Bible has a lot to say about tears. To David, they are the natural expression of his grief and anguish (Psalm 6:6-7), and become his “food” when men seek to mock the God he loves (Psalm 42:3). Here the man after God’s own heart is so distraught and his tears so many that they become his food and drink, his tear water tea. His suffering is so great that he becomes completely caught up in his desire for God, to the point that his tears become his sustenance. Nothing else matters except pouring out his heart to the Lord. David teaches us that it is in our deepest sorrow that we discover our deepest need for God.
In Psalm 80:5 we read, You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. Instead of manna from heaven or water from the rock, God gives His ravaged, exiled people the bread of tears. In their sinfulness and sorrow, it is their tears that draw them back to God, making them thirsty for the Living Water of heaven. When we experience the trials and troubles of this life, we too taste the bitterness of our tears, and it makes us long for the satisfaction only God can give us in Himself as together we share in Communion
A Bottle of Tears, A River of Restoration
Another thing we learn about our tears is that they are very precious to God. For example, in Psalm 56:8 we read: You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle! Are they not in your book? This is a picture of God being so concerned for the griefs of His people that he records their tears, collecting them in a heavenly container to preserve them. This is how dear our sincere sorrow is to our heavenly Father. In New Testament times, people were known to store their tears in bottles as an expression of sorrow, usually for someone who had died. These bottles were known as “lachrymatories.” Loved ones would place these bottles into the graves of the dead as a precious sign of love for the person.
This is what God does with our tears. He collects them and stores them, only in a much greater and more blessed way. He keeps a record of tears shed in genuine faith and places them in the tomb of the One who gave His life for the world. Our Father deeply desires His people to weep openly for sin, injustice, and the lost. Consider what the book of Jeremiah says in chapter 9 verse 1: O that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people. And in Lamentations 2:18 we read, Cry aloud to the Lord! O daughter of Zion! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite.
The prophet knows that he could cry an ocean of tears but they would never be enough to pay for the sin of God’s people. Yet he understands that God accepts our tears of repentance and records them. He takes our tears and turns them into blessings as He draws us to His Son. He turns rivers of tears into pools of restoration, renewing His people so they may go from strength to strength (Psalm 84:5-7). In Communion, we can draw from this great source of strength because we pour ourselves out to the One who has poured himself out for us.
Pouring Out Our Tear Water Tea
Perhaps one of the most moving stories of tears takes place in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 7, verses 36-50. It is the story of the sinful woman who anoints our Lord’s feet with her tears and dries them with her hair at the home of Simon the Pharisee. The language and the context of the story suggest that this woman is someone given over totally to a sinful life – most likely a life of sexual sin. For so many men she has dared to let down her hair, to disgrace herself in defiance of the Law of God. And yet, we see her pushing through the crowd in the courtyard of this prominent Pharisee to touch the One she knows can rescue her from her sin.
Most likely this woman had witnessed the words and deeds of Jesus. She had heard Him call for love and repentance, and offer rest for the weary and light for those in darkness. She had watched him eat with sinners, heal the sick, and welcome the outcast. Perhaps she had been present when Jesus fed the multitudes with the five loaves and two fish. She may have known of other women who had come to our Lord in tears, like the widow whose son had died and was raised to life again. She had been so moved by this mysterious man that she was compelled to seek Him out. And so she braided her hair, made herself look beautiful, and put on her finest clothes. She took a jar of her most expensive perfume and came looking for something to fill her empty soul, ready for whatever was to come.
When she arrived, she met a man who looked at her with love and forgiveness. She let go of her past life of sin, broke the flask of her heart, and poured out all the secret tears she had stored up over a lifetime, flooding His feet as she wept unceasingly. Then, she let down her hair, this time to wipe away the tears and surrender herself to the One who would free her from every sin and sorrow, and offer her a new beginning.
Tears Transformed into Heavenly Bread
Jesus then proceeded, in a masterful way, to contrast the actions of the woman with the behavior of Simon. Simon gave Jesus no kiss of greeting, no water to wash His feet, and no oil to anoint His head. He offered no real hospitality to Jesus, making the meal they shared meaningless. Yet this woman could not stop kissing our Lord’s feet. She washed His feet with her precious tears and anointed them with her most costly perfume. She brought all she had to the meal – her sins and sorrows, her hopes and desires, and a sincere repentance born of a deep love. And in return, Jesus offered her new hope and the Bread of His very Life.
The woman came and made her own tear water tea with Jesus. She took all the tears she had stored in the bottle of her heart and then let it be broken and poured out before the Master, giving them meaning and bringing cleansing to her heart. In fact, if we look deeper into the story, we can see that all she did for the Lord, He did in a greater way for her. He cleansed her with the water of His word of forgiveness, anointed her with the oil of gladness, and gave her a kiss of divine peace. He gave her the gift of Himself, restoring her life by taking her tears and giving her Living Water.
Communion and Tears
This is a perfect picture of what Communion is all about. As we approach the Table of the Lord each Sunday, we bring all that we are to the celebration. We break open our hearts and pour ourselves out before the altar, knowing that Jesus gives us His Body and Blood, the perfect gift of love that can restore our brokenness and strengthen us for our journey of salvation. Our Lord takes our tears and stores them up, recording our love in His Book of Life, as He empties out His life for us in the once-for-all sacrifice of the cross. In the celebration of Communion, we hear the words that restore our lives, strengthen our weary souls, and bring lasting peace. Like the women who followed Jesus and served Him out of their means (Luke 8:1-3), we who have received freely, are free to give all we have in service to the Kingdom of God.
Our tears are a precious gift that lead us to the Table where we experience the very life of Christ. Rather than withdrawing from the bitterness of our sorrows, let us come unashamed before the altar to open our hearts and offer our lives to the One who forgives us of sin, causes us to love much, and exchanges the bread of our affliction for the Bread of Life.