I wonder how many of my readers are familiar with the tear cup, used often in Biblical times to store the tears of the bereaved and/or to indicate grief over a loss. I just heard of it myself last night and after reading an enlightening piece on the ritual, I thought I would share it with you here.
In the time of Jesus, Jews participated in the usual practice of storing their tears in a tear cup, also known as a tear vase. The tear-shaped cups had a flaring rim, which was placed under the eye to catch the tears as they were shed. The cup was then corked and stored.
The shedding of tears was such an important part of showing grief that professional mourners were hired at funerals (Jeremiah 9:17-22, Amos 5:16). In The time of the Mishna, Rabbi Judah ruled that “even the poorest in Israel should hire not less than two flutes (players to play a dirge) and one wailing woman” (Ket. 4:4).
The use of a vessel for catching tears is first mentioned in the Bible in Psalm 56:8, where the Psalmist cries in his pain to God, “Put my tears in your bottle”.
This request that God not forget his tears is a moving image of God’s depth of
Compassion and concern for his people.
There are three accounts in the New Testament that may refer to the collection of tears in a tear cup. At a feast in the house of Simon the Pharisee, a woman washed Jesus: feet with her tears (Luke 7:38,44). This may mean that Jesus’ teaching had so helped the woman, she no longer felt it necessary to save her past grief in the tear cup. Instead she poured out all her grief on Jesus’ feet.
When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha had been crying for four days before Jesus came Near to Bethany. When they went out to meet him, he saw their tears and was Deeply moved (John 11:33). Perhaps he saw their tear cups were full.
In the Garden of Gesthemane, when Jesus prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mathew 26:39). That cup may be identified in several different ways. It could represent a full cup of wine either as a symbol of fate or as a symbol of judgment. Or it could represent a tear cup full of tears, a symbol of sorrow. If so, his meaning may have been: "The amount of grief and sorrow you are asking me to carry is a cup larger than I can bear”. But there was no other way for God’s will to be fulfilled.
“Put My Tears in Your Bottle; are they not
written in Your Book?” (Psalm56:8)