The power of lament
“…How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”
Luke 13:34 (NLT)
Over the last year we have all lost things due to Covid lockdowns. We have been furloughed, suffered bereavement and the list goes on. While we hope for a better tomorrow, sometimes we forget to acknowledge the reality of our pain, suffering and loss in the here and now. Walter Brueggemann argues for the ‘need and power’ of lament in times of disorientation1 2 but states that this is a lost art in the Church.
Lament is expressing sorrow, regret, or unhappiness about something – verbalising our distress to God, not just for self but for others with whom we have direct or indirect contact. It can be in song, poem or speech for someone who has died, or something that has gone horribly wrong, or something that simply should not be the case.
Jesus laments with the disciples in Luke 13 about the state of things, about death, suffering and fairness. In his exclamation ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem’, (v34 first part) we feel his pain, longing, and empathy for the children for whom he broods and wants to protect. In the words of the prophet Zephaniah we are reminded, “He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (Zephaniah 3:17). Jesus does not ignore the current reality, or our emotions, or the many complex questions that are raised as we search for answers and meaning.
Like Jesus in the incident in Luke 13, and on the cross lament played an important role 3 – and it remains important in our Christian life. A significant proportion of the Psalms, which we love to read, are lament psalms. They are based on the writer’s relationship with God and with neighbours, and bring us face to face with our own concerns, fears, frustrations and hopes. In lament we can freely and unreservedly express our whole heart and mind before the throne of grace, knowing that we are perfectly safe and remain the apple of his eye, because nothing separates us from the love of God. Lament is about release, bringing it all to God, and that is where we might have to leave it. It is good for our health and it can promote growth.
Bad stuff happens but God has given us a wonderful way through in lament which engages with our faith, emotions and with others, to help us deal with trauma and loss. Because of God’s gift we don’t have to wait to show our appreciation saying ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Luke 13:35). Jesus is here in real time with us, as we lament.
Merciful Father, ‘Don’t turn away from me in my time of distress. Bend down to listen, and answer me quickly when I call to you.’ 4 In Jesus’ name. Amen
Study by David Gibbs
3 Psalm 22
4 Psalm 102:2
About the writer:
David Gibbs is an Elder and Pastoral Worker for Grace Communion International in Northern England, the Midlands and Wales.
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