At long last Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to this barren, pebble-strewn wasteland to pay homage to the thousands of martyrs buried here for the cause that made possible his triumphant homecoming today.

There was no crying in Lot 17 of Tehran's great cemetery where honored guests had been ivited to hear the tired, 78-year-olk Moslem cleric who had to sit down to make his 30-minute speech.

They listened, the women in their full-lenght black veils, the men -- mullashs or laymen -- also dressed in somber colors. Intent on every word, they applauded only once. That was when Khomeini said that the revolution he had set in motion would stop onlu when he had his way, when his own government replaces the present one.

The gurests for the most part were families of martyrs, members in many cases of the uncompromising Moslem clandestine guerrilla movement which had been hounded to near extinction under the shah.

The organizers chose Lot 17 for its symbolism. For it was on the 17th of the Iranian month of Shahrivar, Sept. 8, that the army shot down Iranians by the hundreds, perhaps thousands, in Tehran's Jaleh Square. In retrospect that massacre was the kiss of death for the shah's regime.

Khomeini prayed both to the special guests and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iranians spread out across the cemetery who heard his speech on loud-speakers.

Master wordsmith that he is, he began the funeral oration which was to damn the shah, the United States and the Soviet government by saying, 'For the children who lost their fathers, for the parents who lost their children, I feel very sad. I cannot stand it. I cannot stand it.

"The shah destroyed everything, and built big and beautiful cemeteries for us."

Addressing President Carter, without bothering to name him, he asked, "Is it human rights to say that when we want to name a government we get a cemetery full of people?"

In three phrases he had touched on three essential themes of his relentlessly successful drive to install the Islamic republic of his dreams -- the sanctity of martyrdom, the fundamental evil of the shah's Pahlavi dynasty and anti-Americanism.

Yet, there were confusing symblos. Too tired to fight his way through the last few miles of out-of-control traffic near the cemetery, the ayatollah was delivered to a neighboring burial plot by a camouflaged, American-built Iranian Air Force helicopter, the very symbol of the U.S. military presence he seeks to chase away from his land forever.

So used to helicopters overhead have Iranians become on months of street confrontations with troops that a mullah had to warn the crowd not to fear the craft.

"It is one of ours," the mullah said over a loudspeaker before the helicopter alighted amid a flurry of dust on the flat gravestones.

After it landed, at least a quarter of an hour elapsed before Khomeini found himself helped to the dais prepared for the occasion.

During much of the time no one had any idea he was inside the craft except for telltale confusion among the welcoming committee of Moslem clerics.

For the men and women from all over the country -- from Tehran, Tabriz, Mashad, Ahwaz -- who had gathered here in the cold, clear winter weather it had been a long wait. Almost everyone within sight of Lot 17 had defied the 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew to come. And almost all had walked at leasdt part of the 20-mile stretch from the city to the cemetery.

To the very last moment, until indeed Khomeini's Air France charter flew overhead first at 8:30 a.m. and again 10 minutes later, no one was quite sure he was coming. Then there was a six-hour wait to see him in the flesh for the honored few of Lot 17.

Laughing at her army boots, an old woman said she had walked out to the cemetery from Tehran every day for the past week when Khomeini was first supposed to have come in the first of manyu subsequently delayed arrivals.

Was it not tiring? she was asked.

"The blood of our martyrs gave us freedom," she replied, "and it was worth every step to me."

A 19-year-old clerk said her best friend had been killed in the revolution and that she, too, was ready to die for its success. A 22-year-old Kurdish office worker echoed the blind faith many Iranians put in Khomeini.

"I am waiting for Khomeni to tell me what to do," he said. "We do not know what we should do."

A woman whose son six years ago tried to blow up the statue of the present shah's father near Tehran University -- and was hunted down and killed -- was asked whether it was all worthwhile. The same statue finally toppled Jan. 16 when the present shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, left the country.

"If the revolution is a success, his death will hurt but it will be an honor," she said. She emphasized the word if.

Another family proudly told of their children's sacrifices -- three sons jailed for anti-shah guerrilla activity four years ago, one tortured and dead, a second released almost immediately, a third freed only a month ago from a secret police prison and too weak to leave the house.

"Yes," the mother said, "it was worthwhile because our unity helped us reach this goal and our unity will never disappear."

Yet amid these answers there were contradictory touches. What to make of a young engineer in charge of one aspect of security at the cemetery who, despite the revolution's increasingly anti-American tone, asked an American journalist how to obtain a visa and scholarship for graduate study at a U.S. university.

Then there was also a touch of the grotesque and the plain unvarnished sense of loss that even a martyr's death can sometime evoke in revolutionary situations.

The grotesque was provided by a man whose fur hat -- topped by a drawing of the Imam Ali, the principal personage of the Shiite Moslems -- served as the foundation for a kind of chamber of horrors replete with color snapshots of various torture victims.

The most touching family what that of a copper worker whose son Reza, 13, had been killed during a particularly violent November weekemd as he went to school. The father and mother carried his enlarged bhotograph. He had been a good student, top grades, dutiful but mischievous son, they insisted. Did his death mean anything for the revolution?

The father looked at his questioner, bit his lip, opened his right hand as if to make a gesture, hit his fist on his side and then looked away.

The boys' chorus welcoming Khomeini sang, "May every drop of their blood turn to tulips and grow forever. Arise, arise, arise."