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Lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. It is based in reality and how we try to understand our feelings. It is healthy, and it happens with God, as we raise our voices and complaints to him. It helps us to remember His power.
We regularly encounter people marked by grief or sorrow. It could be the impact of the pandemic, the movement of people or the challenges of life. How are we able to create meaning from this and how do we navigate it? To give voice to suffering is entirely human. Grief finds a way to make itself heard. When we lament about suffering and injustice, it is human. It gives space for pain, and asking for God and others to see it.
Part of being in God’s image is having emotion, so it is good when we are honest with Him. He welcomes us as a father. Jesus promises to make his home with us. When we have troubles, we can take this to God, and he walks with us. He invites us to give our sorrows and burdens to him, and promises the oil of joy instead of mourning. He won’t cast us away or be angry, but recieves our pain.
There are other ways that we can vent our pain. Sometimes they can be outwards to the people around us. We become angry, with others or with God, and trust in other things. We do it because we know something is wrong. We know that things aren’t meant to be this way, and that they weren’t made like this in the beginning. Sometimes we turn our pain inwards and withdraw, feeling overwhelmed. Some suffer silently without the words to express their anguish, and can find ways to dull their grief and lament.
We often aren’t good as communities at sitting with sorrow. There is a way to express our pain, and that is doing it with God. We have been shown this way in Scripture. The book of Lamentations shows us a period of time when the Israelites were taken captive by the Babylonians. It contains many instances of suffering that make for very hard reading. Yet even in cataloguing this pain it gives voice to the fact that God hears people’s pain, and that He is not a stranger to it. Lamentations begins and ends with intense suffering for God’s people. But in the third chapter there are some well known verses that have comforted people for millenia. They point to the promises of God: ’The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfuless. The Lord is my portion says my soul, therefore I will hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.’
So what do we make of our own suffering, and how can we give voice to those suffering in our communities? The first thing is to acknowledge it in church so that we dignify people in their pain. When we witness suffering it can be scary: we may not not how to respond or what to say. But offering our presence as someone walks through suffering can be the best way to honour them. There is a dignifying of people when we see their pain, and there is a precious ministry of presence for us. For those that don’t know God, there is an opportunity in this ministry of presence to share God’s love with those living around us with devestation. The lament passages bring an authencity to the reality that the God who saw the suffering of the Israelites sees the suffering of people today, and he has something to say about it.
Perhaps there are some who indentify with Job, saying that God does not answer when they cry out. As the church we have our part to play, to say that God does have an answer. The Good Samaritan was the one who stopped and dignified the man by seeing him and his pain. This is reminiscient of people protesting after the murder of George Floyd, or of women speaking out in the #MeToo movement: people crying out for the world to see their pain. The good Samaritan didn’t ignore his neighbour or minimise his suffering. He stopped, bore witness, and acted. We may find that bearing witness to others’ suffering means that we need to be willing to be interupted, or to sacrifice our own comforts. But when we act with love towards our communities, this is showing deep and sacrificial love. Jesus commanded his followers to take up their cross and follow him.
We are invited, called and adopted into an ever growing, global family. We have hope of everlasting joy, no more death and for every tear to be wiped away. But what about now? Jesus told his followers to take heart. He acknowledged that we will experience suffering, because part of being human is to suffer. It can be as a result of the actions of others, our own actions, or just because life happens. But Jesus says that He has overcome the world. When we are in the midst of our laments, sometimes we can’t hear this. But it doesn’t make it any less true. Part of our role is to keep our eye on Him. Sometimes this is so hard when you are so empty from your suffering, and longing for justice and the end of the pain, crying ‘How long oh Lord?’ Jesus says to take heart, for he has overcome the world.
Jesus was a man of sorrows who knew lament. He cried out as he looked across at Jerusalem in Luke 13, and you can feel His longing and visceral sorrow. Or the hours when he hung on the cross, crying ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ He experienced a depth of agony in order to make a way for us to be reconciled to God. He shows his pain in the garden of Gethsemene as he cries out to the Father before his death and suffering.
God truly does walk with us as we walk with him, and we do not need to fear evil for he is with us. His promise is peace, even to those who feel far away. Jesus, who knew lament, brings strength to the weary and life to those near death. We must keep helping one another in church to give voice to lament. To deeply love one another and those in our communities, and share this good news that God has not abandoned them. We need to have honesty in the face of suffering, and acknowledege it. There is power in the ministry of presence, and even in our limitations, it may be the most powerful thing that we can bring. The Lord is surely near, because he is close to the brokenhearted. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Let’s make room for God’s healing, comfort and peace.
Even as we suffer in our journey of faith, God takes account of every tear. Let’s keep introducing people to Jesus: the one who suffered, died and rose again, and who helps those lost in grief. He is the one who came to find them and to bring them to His father’s house