I believe it is safe to say that as people of faith we often see ourselves as generally an optimistic group. At least, we think we should be. It is certainly the tone I most frequently take, and it is a significant part of the message I try to proclaim.
We are Easter people. We put our hope in the resurrection. God is making all things new. We will make it through this dark time. All will be well.
This is not a bad thing. I believe everything I just said. It offers us, I believe and incredible strength to withstand difficult and dark events.
But, that message, by itself can lack nuance. It can disregard some parts of human nature and minimize the pain and anxiety so many people experience as part of their lives. That needs to be guarded against. If we are not careful we can fall into the temptation as regarding grief and lament as a spiritual failing; the failure of faith. And that would be tragic.
It is important, no, critical to make room in our lives for lament and grief.
United Church theologians John Young and Catherine MacLean in a recent webinar presentation encouraged ministers and other members of the United Church to give time and space for lament; especially this past week in view of the killings in Nova Scotia last week and also in light of the spread of the pandemic and all the losses associated with it.
Lament is one of those aspects of our faith that is well documented in scripture but often shied away from. It involves asking where God is; why did God abandon us or why we can’t find God. Not just asking those questions of others but asking God specifically, where did you go? If you have promised to always be with us, where are you now?
A whole book is named Lamentations and calls out the troubles of Israel following the exile and why God let that happen. A number of psalms also qualify as lament. Jesus quotes one on the cross. From psalm 22; My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me,
From the cry of my distress?
O my God, I cry out in the daytime, but you do not answer, at night also, but I get no relief.
Calling out to God from a place of distress; challenging god as to God’s absence, is nothing new. It5 is a part of our tradition; but one, we often see as problematic.
And yet, here we are in unprecedented circumstances; at least for ourselves. We are told God is always with us. That all will be well. But it can be difficult to see that beautiful future; especially through our tears. Scripture; our tradition; Jesus; tells us it is okay to weep. It is okay to ask God, “Where are you?”
We can sit in our lament.
Young and MacLean note that between the crucifixion and resurrection there was a Saturday, a Holy Saturday when Jesus’ followers were left with their grief and their lament, wondering what came next.
Perhaps we are resting in that time right now. Lamenting, grieving what we have lost still waiting for a glimpse of what the resurrection will look like.
Today’s scripture is about two disciples encountering the risen Christ in a stranger; realizing who this man is after breaking bread with him. No, this is not a story encouraging us to go out and engage in welcoming conversation with a stranger on the street and invite them into our homes. But it does say that in welcoming and generosity we can encounter the risen Christ.
But it is also a story of two people, finding their way through their grief and lament; wondering what happened finally experiencing the resurrection in unexpected and unplanned for ways. But that lament; those questions are still real.
Young and MacLean note that there is typically a trajectory from loss to hope. How long we experience the various pats is as you would expect very personal. But it involves lament; the grief of more personal loss, questions of trust; confronting evil and finally resurrection.
If you haven’t given yourself time to lament the events of the past week or even the past month or so, give yourself that chance. So much has happened. So many have been hurt by what has happened. Grieve for what has been lost.
And ask yourself; about trust. We need to trust. Where has our trust been broken and what will it take to rebuild it. That is a longer conversation, but one we must think about.
And finally where do we find God in all of this. Because as much as I might ask that question; I am assured God is with us and we will experience the risen Christ in wondrous and unexpected ways.
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