Here we are on Holy Thursday, in our homes and unable to gather ‘in-person’ as the body of Christ. In many ways, we may feel like the disciples on that first Holy Week. They walked with Jesus into Jerusalem during a celebration (which was our lives before Corona) then scattered in fear and trembling after Jesus’ arrest (where we currently are now). I imagine that as the disciples gathered for dinner that night with Jesus, there was an increasingly awkward feel in the room. Perhaps it was the tension that Judas was putting off as he wrestled with whether or not to betray Jesus. Perhaps Jesus was already praying about what was to come, as we see in the Garden of Gethsemene later. But as the disciples met, ate, had their feet washed by Jesus, heard Jesus tell of Judas’ betrayal, saw Judas leave, and then predicts Peter’s denial. The night was spiraling in a direction that most of the disciples (or us) would have thought on Palm Sunday.
Like the rest of us, I have been thinking and praying about how to make sense of this new normal that we see in the world. There is much fear and anxiety over the Coronavirus which is stacked up on every other concern that we might have. A few weeks ago, we were in a series on the Beatitudes, which we suspended because of the Corona outbreak. In one of the beatitudes, Jesus says
“Blessed are those that mourn, for they will be comforted.”
One way to look at that verse is that Jesus is blessing those who mourn the loss of a loved one. There may be some truth to that- however, I believe there is a deeper meaning. In the previous beatitude, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” In our sermon on that beatitude, we said that each of us is poor in spirit. Not financially poor- but poor in spirit. On our own, we cannot bring ourselves to God. Each of us is sinful and broken. When Jesus follows that up with “blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus is calling blessed those who mourn and grieve the brokenness and sinfulness that we see in the world. We are blessed when we see the world’s sinfulness and we mourn over it because we recognize how much the world needs the healing that comes from Jesus.
There is a word that we use in close relationship with mourning. It is the word lament. A Lament, in the Bible, is a song of mourning that cries out during bereavement, personal tragedy, or national disaster. When we lament, we are expressing our grief and our sorrow over our own brokenness, the fragility of life, the injustice we might experience or witness, and the list could go on. Lamenting, or sharing our sorrows, is something we see throughout the Scriptures, from the Old Testament to Jesus.
A place we clearly see this is in the book of Job. Job, as you may remember, was a righteous and pious man. As the angels came before God, Satan receives permission from God to test Job. Job loses all his signs of wealth. Job tears his robe and shaves his head- which was a sign of mourning. Then Satan receives permission to afflict Job again, and he is covered in boils and his children die in a tragedy. Still, Job will not curse God. Even his wife gets angry and wants him to curse God.
Then we see some of Job’s friends come to console him. The book says:
“When they saw him from a distance they could hardly recognize him. They began to weep aloud and they tore their robes and sprinkled their heads with dust. They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word because they saw how great his suffering was.”
The friends, initially, take the posture and attitude of lament. They grieved with their friend for seven days and seven nights, sitting with Job in the dust. The problem, in Job, is when the friends began to speak to Job. Rather than sitting with empathy, they tried to explain his situation to him and offer faulty solutions as to what he should do.
This is challenging for us when we face long-term suffering and death. We often want to “say” something helpful but what is most often needed is just our presence. A hand to hold. A shoulder to cry on. Someone who will grieve, mourn, and lament with us. We need someone who will enter into life’s pain and sorrow with us without offering easy answers or platitudes. Sometimes we need to be surrounded by people who will sit in the dust with us and lament.
In an article in Time magazine last week, New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright wrote:
“Lament is what happens when people ask, “Why?” and don’t get an answer. It’s where we get to when we move beyond our self-centered worry about our sins and failings and look more broadly at the suffering of the world.”
We can look around about how things have been in Milford and Kent County during the last couple of weeks and think things have been bad. Can you imagine what they are like in Italy? China? How can our experience compare with a refugee camp? When we move from our own situation to see the brokenness in the world, when we feel the pain of those around us, we lament.
When we read the Psalms, there are many Psalms of Lament. Psalm 6, 10, 13, and 88 are examples. Psalm 22 is quoted by Jesus on the Cross:
“My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”
The point of the Lament Psalms is not just an outlet for our sorrow- but, as Wright points out, that God laments with us. God grieves the brokenness of the world in Genesis; filled with sorrow over Israel’s rebellion; Jesus wept over Jerusalem; Jesus wept over the death of a friend. God laments for us and with us.
During trials, it is tempting to offer up easy sounding platitudes. “God’s in control.” “Everything will work out.” “We just have to have faith.” “We’ll take it a day at a time.” Offering the easy answer mitigates the deep feelings of sorrow and grief that the other may feel. Offering an easy or quick answer, regardless of how theologically correct we may be, may not be what the world or our neighbor needs right now. As Christians, we can testify that we, too, have experienced the silence of God that directs us to wait and be patient, even when we want quick answers. Lament invites us into the lives of those around us, to feel their pain as our own, and to sit in the dust with them. When the time is right, we will be able to point them to the hope that we have in Jesus who is redeeming our broken world.
On this Holy Thursday, we would normally meet and celebrate Communion together. Sharing in the presence of Christ together through Communion is comfortig and has the power to transform lives. Tonight, we lament that we cannot be together to confess our sins together and to receive the presence of Christ through the common elements of bread and the fruit of the vine. Rather than come up with an “easy” solution, we can invite God’s presence to sit with us as we grieve, mourn and lament the world we live in.
As we prepare to enter into the three days leading up to Easter, I want to invite you into a time of lament; of how, like Judas, we betray Jesus. How, like Peter, we deny Jesus. Of how, like the other disciples we are tempted to leave Jesus’ side. Let us lament the brokenness we see in the world. Let us lament for those addicted to drugs; for relationships that are broken; for lives that are lost; for injustices lived out; for those who are losing hope. Let us mourn, not only our own sinfulness, but the sinfulness we see in the world. Let us sit in the dust, grieving for those who do not hold onto the same hope that we profess- that for there to be a resurrection, that there must be a death.
Living in a state of lament may not be where we want to be right now, but the scriptures encourage us. In the Lament Psalms, the psalmist reminds us that in our lament that God hears our cries for help and comes to our aid. God will turn our mourning into dancing. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess that even as God may seem silent, that God is working behind the scenes to bring about God’s purposes in our lives and in our world. When that day comes, we will celebrate and be filled with joy.
Let us pray:
Here is a link to the article mentioned in the message
Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It Is Not Suppose To (N.T. Wright)- Don’t let the click-bait title fool you (I highly doubt Wright titled his article with this headline) as Christianity has much to offer. He wants us to see lament as part of that answer.