Lament – Br. Luke Ditewig
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God, help me. Come quickly. “O Lord, make haste to help me,” cries the Psalmist. “Let those who seek after my life be ashamed. … I am poor and needy.” Don’t delay. “You are my helper.” The psalmist pleads, protests what is wrong, and trusts. You are my helper. You are my God.
About half of the psalms are laments. Lament is a cry of pain, a cry for help, and a cry of trust. Lament is stark and boldly real about pain and suffering, and it assumes being heard. Tonight we will chant Tenebrae, a service of shadows, with lament psalms and haunting solos from Lamentations about people abandoned, isolated, cut-off, and grieving. Though we chant psalms like these all year, tonight they come together in a particular prayer for Holy Week. Jesus was troubled in spirit, and so are we, especially now. The Surgeon General said this may be the “hardest and saddest week” for our country.[i]
While particularly appropriate now, lament is also from the beginning. Patrick Miller wrote: “The story of God and the human creature is rooted in and shaped by the experience of pain and suffering and what God does about it, in the human voice that cries out and the God whose ears cannot miss those cries.”[ii] Lament, Miller continued, is prayer and part of being human.[iii]
At the beginning, Cain killed his brother, and Abel’s blood rang out from the earth. God heard, notably after his death, and grieved. [iv] Nothing is too late or too far removed. Then in Genesis 6, God “grieved in the heart” the wickedness of humanity. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. From the cross, Jesus cried out with Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Trust and question in tender, wrenching symmetry:[v] “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
As humans, we lament. In this Holy and particular week, lament is our prayer. Pray together as with Tenebrae tonight.[vi] Also personally pray your lament alone. Be stark and boldly real naming your pain, fear, protest, and questions. Write them out, speak, draw, or act them out. Let yourself weep and groan. At the same time, remember and trust that you are being heard. As from the beginning, God hears every cry, even from the grave. As on the cross, Jesus, too, laments. Our God and helper grieves with us.
[i] U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, April 6, 2020
[ii] Patrick D. Miller, “Heaven’s Prisoners: The Lament as Christian Prayer” in Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square. (2005) Eds. Sally A. Brown and Patrick D. Miller. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, p16.
[iii] Ibid, p17
[iv] Ibid, p16
[v] Ibid, 21
[vi] Listen to the audio at www.SSJE.org
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Br. Luke, I read the sermons from SSJE every day. Your sermon about laments was quite relevant and helpful. Writing out your worries, pains and laments enables you to articulate them and express them to God. In the last year, many people have not thought anyone much less a government official is listening to their concerns. That notion applies to people across the spectrum regardless of their views. So it is incredibly important to be reminded that God is listening and cares.
As a Protestant and Episcopalian, sometimes the Old Testament seems so far removed in time that we listen and gravitate to reading the New Testament where we often relate to more familiar stories and verses. Your sermon about the Psalms made understanding their connection to Christian life more understandable. Thank you for your insights.
Several years ago, I attended a retreat at SSJE with a group from our church. I truly remember how meaningful the experience was to me. As I recall, it was the year Boston had a record snowfall! Since I was raised in upstate NY, it was like weather as usual. I look forward to being able to attend another retreat in the near future!