Learning to Lament

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

John 20:11-18
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Some of you may have seen my cousin in law, Lorraine, listed in the prayer list. A few weeks ago, Lorraine found out she has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. As you can imagine, the news devastated Paul, my cousin, and all of us who know and love Lorraine. They have two teenage boys—one just left for college this year. We’ve been praying hard as she goes through her chemo.

After I heard the news, I wondered (as I often do) how faith would help them through this. They are a very faithful family. Active in their church. Involved in Bible Study, worship, leadership. Paul takes time off as an executive at Walmart to go on Mission trips to Africa. And now, they have formed prayer group for Lorraine on facebook. Their lives are centered on faith.

And until now, they have had a fairly good life… until this news broke. And as I thought about them, about their faith—this is what I honestly wondered:  I wonder if they know how to lament? Do they know it is okay to lament? Do they know how share their grief, their sorrow, their confusion, their distress with God? I hope so. I know it is hard to do..

There is not a week that goes by that I hear stories make me want to ask the question: Do you know how to lament? This week alone, a friend lost his 40 year old son… I think of all the families of the shooting in Washington and the family of the shooters… Do they know how to lament? In our church a 3 year old faced major surgery… can we weep that a child was born that requires him to go through so much? A niece of one of our members has a recurrence of cancer… a member has leukemia return… More than one of our members is longing and looking for a job… another member is scraping by on temporary jobs to pay the bills… And this is a partial list folks.

Every story… raises the question in the face of such fear and suffering… “Do we know how to lament? I hope so.

After all, I would remind you our faith was born out of the lament. Someone pointed out that before there were drops of rain, human tears fell in the Garden of Eden after the fall.

The book of Exodus opens with the suffering and crying of God’s very own children in Egypt. The children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – God’s chosen ones… are living under slavery. So what do they do? They cry. They lament. And God responds. Keep reading the Scriptures and people are crying again and again.

Lament is a first language of our faith practiced by people of faith: Jesus wept. Mary wept. Job wept. David wept. Jeremiah wept.

In fact Jeremiah’s nickname is “the weeping prophet”. Today’s text may be where he received that nickname. It is a text filled with lament… you can almost see the tears streaming down his face, he sounds inconsolable.

“My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her king not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images with their foreign idols?”)… For the hurt of my poor people, I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there a physician there?… O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!”

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, knew how to lament and he had reason to lament. After the glorious religious reforms of King Josiah… and the rebuilding of the temple… and rediscovering the Book of Deuteronomy…after Josiah died,  the political world of Jeremiah and his people slid back into one dominated by the power and greed of a number of corrupt kings… Zedekiah, perhaps the most ruthless of all, imprisoned Jeremiah. Jeremiah would see the coming judgment of God and the destruction of his people. His nation as he knew it… as they knew it would be no more.

Jeremiah has plenty of reason to cry. He knew how to lament. He wrote a whole book about it!

So, I wonder if you know how to lament…

It took me years to learn because frankly, no one ever taught me how to lament or gave me permission.

Remember that acronym on how to pray: ACTS: that  taught us that prayer is to include Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication? Perhaps you know other formulas. Think about all of them. I cannot think of a single formula for prayer which includes Lament on the list.

It also occurs to me that no one encouraged me or gave me permission to lament growing up… In fact, I’m thinking that at the moment you begin to cry to God, to complain to God… there is this voice from within or someone else that said:  “You shouldn’t be doing that!”  God doesn’t want to hear you cry or complain. So I don’t remember anyone giving me permission to lament.

But life, you know, is a great teacher… and over the years, through personal suffering, through walking with people through their suffering… The Bible is a great teacher as well… 67 of the 150 Psalms are either entirely or partially Psalms of Lament.

So, over years of living and Bible study,  I’ve given myself permission to lament… I’ve  learned to lament and I’ve listened to laments… Maybe you’ve even prayed in your heart a lament that sounds something like this:

[choir/group leads “My Eyes are Dim with Weeping”]

 A Prayer of Lament

With the response from the Wild Goose Worship Group

Song Response: My eyes are dim with weeping and my pillow soaked with tears, faithful   God, remember me.

Lord,  I am turning to you… my life is in chaos, I feel helpless and hopeless… O God, O God…I feel so alone…

Song Response: My eyes are dim with weeping and my pillow soaked with tears, faithful   God, remember me.

My heart throbs, my strength gives out, and the light in me has turned to darkness

Song Response: My Eyes are Dim with Weeping and my pillow soaked with tears faithful God remember me…

My friends, even my closest and most friends don’t know what to say or do… my family is working through their own pain… their own questions… they are lost too…

Song Response: My eyes are dim with weeping and my pillow soaked with tears, faithful   God, remember me.

God, our nation, our world, is in turmoil, our way of life is slipping away, there is so much conflict and anger, there is so much senseless, violence  there are so many without hope and without help, and the future is so uncertain…

Song Response: My eyes are dim with weeping and my pillow soaked with tears, faithful   God, remember me.

God, don’t give up on me, on us…..Don’t stay away…. Come and help me, help us…. Now…. Please.

Song Response: My Eyes are Dim with Weeping and my pillow soaked with tears faithful God remember me…

“Faithful God, remember me” Here is the good news. God does remember us. In fact God laments with us. We are not forgotten. We are not alone.  

Interesting thing about the text in Jeremiah  today. Scholars aren’t sure who is lamenting in this text. When you read, “My joy is gone, my grief is upon me, my heart is sick…” the scholars say it is possible that it is not only Jeremiah speaking but also God.

I like that. I think that when we lament, truth is God is lamenting with us…there is grief and suffering in God.

That’s what a woman came to understand who was on a weekend retreat. The leader, Trevor Hudson was leading a 2 day silent retreat.

 “Halfway through the weekend a lady, whose 19 year old son had been killed in a car accident, shared her tears with me. Her pain was immeasurable. I listened in respectful silence, hoping inwardly that I could be a wailing wall for her. A few hours later, upon entering the darkened chapel, I saw her kneeling before a stark crucifix. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. She turned and said to me, ‘I can face tomorrow. I know God knows and suffers with me.” Sharing her tears with God and another human being had made it possible for her to grieve with hope.[1]

That’s the conclusion Nicholas Wolterstorff (who was professor of Philosophical theology at Yale) reached as he wrote a very moving book called, “Lament for a Son”… It is his personal journal of the year that followed the death of his young adult son to a mountain climbing accident. It is a book of questions, of confusion, of faith seeking understanding, of anger… a book of lament. As he continues to work through and think through his grief, he comes to a new understanding of God:

“For a long time I knew that God is not the impassive, unresponsive, unchanging being portrayed by the classical theologians. I knew of the pathos of God. I knew of God’s response of delight and his response of displeasure. But strangely, his suffering I never saw before.

God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. The pain and fallenness of humanity have entered into his heart. Through the prism of my tears I have seen the suffering God.

It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor.

And great mystery: to redeem our brokenness and lovelessness the God who suffers with us did not strike some mighty blow of power but sent his beloved son to suffer like us, though his suffering to redeem us from suffering and evil.

Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it….”[2]

nstead of explaining suffering… instead of telling us not to cry… God shares our suffering… In fact those who have lamented, have learned that it is THROUGH their lament and suffering that they have experienced the living God in a way they never knew before.

This was true for Ken Cope who is a spiritual director who has worked with many hurting people who struggle to understand God. Most powerfully, he has walked that journey himself.

In a preface to a book about lament by Michael Card, he writes:

“My experience with lament and with the living God occurred several years ago, when I was diagnosed with degenerative liver disease. My father had died when I was seventeen, and now faced with the possibility that I might die, leaving behind my 17 year old son and 14 year old daughter, I was overwhelmed with feelings of anger and confusion and pain. When I finally let go and cried out to God, it was in fury and frustration that I unleashed on Him, accusing Him, questioning Him. It did not make any sense to me. How could a loving God allow my children to go through the pain that I had? I had done all that God had asked of me. I had been a faithful servant and made the right choices and sacrifices. Why was God doing this to me? How dare He? I was certain that I had pushed God too far, that I was now going to experience His wrath and condemnation for my ranting and unbelief. But what I found instead was great mercy and tenderness. I experienced his loving-kindness in a way that I had never had before. He had been waiting all along for me to come to the end of myself and fall on my knees before Him. He had been waiting for me to be completely honest with who I was, instead of who I thought I should be. And I realized that it was in my brokenness and weakness that I was truly able to know the tremendous love that my great God had for me. He could take anything I hurled at Him. He was never going to let me go.”

Lament… it seems doesn’t lead you away from God, as some might fear… in fact it seems to lead us straight into the heart and love of God.

Today I’d like to offer as my closing prayer for us, a prayer of lament called, “You didn’t fix me, you joined me!” written by Michael Card in his book, “A sacred Sorrow: reaching out to God in the lost language of lament”. It will be our pastoral prayer this day.

 I invite you to pray this either for yourself or on behalf of someone who is weeping…

 I acknowledge before you, Lord, the glaring gap, the difference between what I feel and what I believe. Right now, I feel like You don’t really care. So many situations in my life are out of control. Why don’t you just fix them?

So much in and around me hurts right now. Why don’t you just heal them?

Where I willing to take more time to pray, I’m feeling right now that from my side of things, this could become a shouting business: DO SOMETHING!

But, You have already done something, haven’t you? You did what it took to become familiar with all the sorrows that I feel pressing in on me this very moment. You felt the gap between what You felt and what You believed, didn’t you?

Jesus, I am so sorry I said you didn’t care. Is there anything I could say that would have caused you more pain than that? You didn’t come to fix things for me, did you? You came to join me. Thank you.

Can I ask You one more thing?

Would you, in the sacrament of this moment, enter right now into the holy of holies that is my hurt? Come in, not to fix, but to simply be present. Be Immanuel inside that sacred, hurting place, even if it’s for only a few precious moments.

I can feel your presence within me Lord.

Thank you.

[1] Hudson, Trevor (2010-12-15). Questions God Asks Us (Kindle Locations 1252-1256). Struik Christian Books. Kindle Edition.

[2] P 81-82 Lament for A son