I Peter 3:8-18
The Gospel passage we’ve read this morning is part of the “farewell discourse” of Jesus in the Gospel of John. In John’s account, Jesus speaks these words to his disciples just after the Last Supper, before he is betrayed and arrested, brought to trial, and put to death. It’s a lengthy discourse, spread over four chapters, offering further teaching, reassurance, and prayers. The farewell discourse is packed full of theology, and it can be challenging for readers to understand all that Jesus is saying. Some readers may feel like they’re pushing through a lengthy theological lecture, interesting at points, but definitely heavy-going. There’s a lot here.
Tucked into these chapters of theological discourse is a short phrase that catches my attention. Jesus says to his disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned.”
What prompted him to say that?
If we view this Final Discourse as a lengthy theological lecture, we’ll miss the significance of this phrase and of this entire section. We shouldn’t imagine Jesus standing like a teacher at a lectern, explaining to his sleepy disciples complex theological concepts that he thought they ought to know. Rather, we should picture him surrounded by his closest friends, speaking to them with great compassion, care, and concern. This is a very intimate conversation, not a theological discourse.
We all have moments when our hearts our troubled, the kind that makes our guts churn, saps our resolve, and makes us turn inward.
We mess up. We fail. Like Peter, in the passage before today’s Gospel, we make lofty promises—“Lord, I will lay down my life for you”—only to fall short.
Or we look at what is going on around us—in our community, in our country, in the world—and we despair. We despair at our helplessness and powerlessness, at all that we know to be wrong but that is beyond us to rectify.
“O Lord, make haste to help me,” cries the Psalmist. … Let those who seek after my life be ashamed. … I am poor and needy. … You are my helper.” The psalmist pleads for help, protests what is wrong, and trusts God is good. This is a lament: naming suffering and believing being heard.
Tonight we pray Tenebrae, which means shadows, with words from people feeling abandoned, isolated, cut-off, and grieving. We lament like them and Jesus, troubled in spirit.
While particularly appropriate for Holy Week, lament is 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.”[i] Lament, Miller continued, is prayer and part of being human.[ii] 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:[iii]
What is your lament today? What is your suffering? What pain of others weighs on you? Name it with scripture, but words are not necessary. Perhaps you need a break from them. Gaze at something broken. Shake your fists. Stomp your feet. Groan. Roar. Cry.
God hears you. Take a deep breath. Lie down and feel your body fully supported. God hears you. In the shadows with Jesus, cry out with trouble and trust.
[i] 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.
[ii] Ibid, p17
[iii] Ibid, 21
Where do people of faith find hope in times of trouble? Where do they turn in times of duress, when their world has been turned upside-down, when their expectations have been shattered, when their beliefs and assumptions have been called into question? Today’s lessons may give us a clue.
Scripture scholars tell us that Luke was writing to a group of predominantly Gentile believers near the end of the first century. Some ten or twenty years earlier, in the year 70, they had witnessed the destruction of the Temple and of the city of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans. It’s difficult for us to imagine how devastating these events were for the Jews and for these early Christians.