The ironic thing about all of this is that Eric Clapton has reached his greatest fame ever due in part to his son's death. Mr. Clapton wrote a song about this death. He called it, "Tears in Heaven." This is a strange occurrence. Very few popular songs sing of grief, but this song does. At the Grammy Awards event in February of this year, Clapton's song, "Tears in Heaven," was awarded the Grammy as the "Song of the Year." And that's not all. The album which contained this song -- an album titled "Unplugged" -- won the Grammy as the album of the year. Mr. Clapton himself won the Grammy for male vocalist of the year. But, again, I'm sure Eric Clapton would give up all his Grammy Awards in an instant if he could have his son back.
The song itself is very simple. I invite you to listen with me to the first verse of Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven."
"Would you know my name, if I saw you in heaven? Would it be the same, if I saw you in heaven?" That's how verse 1 begins. The separation is real. His son is gone forever. As with others in the grieving process, Mr. Clapton wishes to communicate with his son. You may remember in my sermon two weeks ago that Merton Strommen, author with his wife, Irene, of the book "Five Cries of Grief," wanted so desperately to communicate with his son who had died. Strommen railed at the invisible wall that separated him from his son. Clapton imagines that he has passed through that wall. And what would he find? Would he know his son if he saw him? Would his son know him or was his son lost to him forever? Was his grief to be eternal? Grief over the death of a loved one is so marked by the finality of it all. I remember when my mother died. I was 14 years old. A few days after her death, I played basketball on our church's junior high team. Our team won. I scored 75 per cent of the points. I couldn't wait to tell my mom, but I couldn't tell her. She was gone. I wondered if she knew somehow. Or would I have to wait for eternity to tell her? The finality of her death, the finality of death in any case, is heart wrenching.
In his song, Mr. Clapton envisions heaven just for a moment. He knows this is a place that he does not belong. "I must be strong and carry on," he sings, "'cause I don't belong here in heaven."
Verse two of "Tears in Heaven" returns to the same theme. "Would you hold my hand, if I saw you in heaven? Would you help me stand, if I saw you in heaven?" Clapton knows not the answers to his questions. If he could just get a glimpse of his son again, his grief might be lightened. In his grief, he cries out for some kind of contact with his son. But it is not to be. So, he sings "I will have to find my own way because I just can't stay in heaven." The burden of grief rests squarely on his shoulders. Heaven is of no help. Heaven is beyond his grasp. His son is beyond his grasp. He'll just have to make do as best he can. He'll have to find his own way through night and day. This is a sad song, really. The grief is so real and the hope so illusory. Clapton knows he doesn't belong in heaven for whatever reason. He will have to carry his own grief and grief is a terribly heavy load.
Clapton sings of the heavy load in the next verse of his song. "Time can bring you down," he sings. "Time can bend your knees and break your heart. Time can have you "beggin' please." Such is Clapton's plight. He is reduced to begging. I'm sure he has begged God for a reason for his son's death. Why, God, why? I'm sure he has begged God to bring his son back. I'm sure he has begged God to lighten his load in life. I'm sure he has begged his friends for understanding. There is a lot of begging going on in the midst of human grieving. Is there anyone who can help us with our pain?
Clapton sees one bright ray of hope in the midst of his grief. He is sure that in heaven there are no tears. That's the source of the song's title: "Tears in Heaven." What he sings is that he knows there'll be no more tears in heaven. Tears are for the earth. Tears are grief's constant companion. Tears are grief's way of showing us the pit of emptiness that tugs so heavily upon us in our time of loss. Tears are important for the grieving process. Just when we think we've put our grief behind us, the tears well up and remind us again of our loss. Tears are good. Tears are an important part of the healing process.
Listen to the brief verse of Clapton's song which sings of hope. He moves from this verse, however, right back to a repeat of verse one. He believes there are no tears in heaven, but heaven is not his place. "I don't belong here in heaven," he sings again. His son may live where tears no longer exist. As for himself, he must find the strength to carry on with his life within this vale of tears.
"I know there'll be no more tears in heaven." That's the single line of hope in this powerful song of grief given to us by Eric Clapton. Tears are for the earth. And as I've said, tears are a very important part of the grieving process. Let them be. It is our good fortune that we have a Savior who weeps with us. My mind thinks immediately of the story of the raising of Lazarus. It's told in John's Gospel, chapter eleven. Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, were good friends of Jesus, so when Lazarus became ill, the sisters sent word to Jesus. Jesus responded to this call from his friends as quickly as he could, but by the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was dead. Martha went out to meet Jesus. She wasn't very happy with her friend from Nazareth. Martha scolded Jesus. "Lord," she said, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died." (John 11:21) Mary came to greet Jesus a few minutes later. She gave the same speech that her sister Martha had given. "Lord," Mary said, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." (John 11:32)
Martha and Mary took Jesus to the tomb of their brother, Lazarus. When Jesus arrived at the tomb of Lazarus, he wept. Jesus grieved deeply over the death of his friend and he wept. Martha and Mary had surely wept many tears in their grief over their brother's tears. Jesus joined his tears with those of the sisters. Earth is for weeping. Earth is for tears. Grieving demands tears. We weep tears of grief because we are face to face with a dark reality. Good grieving always faces that reality with honesty. Good grieving weeps over the sense of loss. Our earthly tears are important. Our earthly tears are so important that Jesus weeps right along with us. When Jesus saw the tomb of Lazarus, he wept. When Jesus sees us in our grieving, he weeps for us. Jesus joins his tears with ours.
And after Jesus wept, he raised Lazarus from the tomb. "Lazarus, come out," Jesus cried with a loud voice. (John 11:43) And Lazarus came out! First, the tears, now the joy. But the joy would not last forever. On another day in the future, Lazarus would die again, and Jesus would not be around to raise him a second time. Jesus will, however, be around to raise Lazarus from the tomb on the last day.
I read for you earlier from the Book of Revelation. The seer, John, saw a vision of the new heaven and the new earth. He saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven. And John heard a loud voice from the throne saying:
"See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them as their God; they will be God's peoples, and God himself will be with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."Such is St. John's vision of the last day. God will come and live among us once and for all. Part of the reality of this new life, this heavenly life, is that God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more. Mourning will be no more. Crying and pain will be no more. Eric Clapton put it well. There will be no tears in heaven. Tears are for life in these days on earth. Tears will come to an end, once God brings to pass a new heaven and a new earth.
- (Revelation 21:3-4)
Just one more word. We weep now and Jesus weeps with us. The day will come, however, when we shall weep no more. The world of no tears, however, the world of heaven, is not just a world off in some distant future. There is One from that world of heaven who has begun to show us what heaven will be like. There is One from that world of heaven who has already begun bringing heaven to earth. This One's name, of course, is Jesus. Jesus brings the new world. Jesus brings heaven to earth. Whenever we tell the story of Jesus, the future world breaks in upon us here and now. Whenever we tell the story of Jesus, God breaks into our world even now to wipe every tear from our eye. We are not alone in our tears. Eric Clapton sings in his song that he does not belong in heaven. But heaven is of no help to him. Heaven is beyond his grasp. Therefore, he must be strong and carry on out of his own strength. But we do not need to carry on out of our own strength. Heaven breaks in upon us even now. Heaven can help us now. Heaven is not beyond our grasp.
"I come from heaven to the world in which you live," Jesus says to us. "I live among you and weep with you when you weep. I am touched by your grief. Heaven begins for you now. I have come from heaven even now to begin to wipe away every tear from your eyes. I come from heaven even now to give you the strength you need to walk through your grief under this heaven and upon this earth." Amen.