I attended a grief seminar this weekend. Sounds fun, right? Actually it was and it wasn’t. It brought to the surface a loss in my life. It gave me permission to grieve that loss in a corporate setting. It affirmed a basic need, as individuals and as the church, to lament. God used the speaker to challenge myths in my thinking and to address the regrets and the resentments that have weighed me down for a very long time. Ultimately it put me on a path to hope.
Thinking on the senseless loss of life this weekend in Paris and Beruit, I think we could use some hope! Jesus knows how we feel. He too was killed by “terrorists,” people enslaved by their “religion”, anxious to kill the one who “threatened” their God. Even though he had come to this earth to endure such a sacrifice, to lay down his life for our sakes, he still felt the senseless injustice, the shock of betrayal and loss, the agony of pain, and the great spiritual anguish of separation from his Father.
Jesus gave us a wonderful example to follow, crying out to the Father from two different lament songs of the Jews. They came from the Jewish hymn book, the book of Psalms, words set to tunes, implanted in the memory banks of the brain, as a means to worship and appeal to a faithful God. I imagine that in his greatest suffering, unable to put many coherent thoughts together, Jesus recalled the words of these songs, giving voice to his deepest emotions.
Consider some of the words from Psalm 22:
1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.[b]…
6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him…
15 My mouth[d] is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce[e] my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. 20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Matthew captured and transmitted all these emotions to his readers when he recalled Jesus’ words on the cross in Matthew 27:46…
46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
Again, consider some of the words of the lament in Psalm 31:
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God…
11 Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbor and an object of dread to my closest friends—those who see me on the street flee from me.
12 I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.
13 For I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side!” They conspire against me and plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
16 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.
Thought to be a common bedtime song for young Jewish boys, this song may have been a source of comfort and a means to praise in Jesus’ deepest agony. Luke captured this sentiment and the depth of the entire lament, when he recorded Jesus’ last words before his death in Luke 23:46…
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
What if, in our times of deepest loss and overwhelming sorrow, when nothing makes sense and God seems indifferent, we took our cue from Jesus and cried out in lament? Would it convince us that we have a good dad who is present and longs for us to cry on his shoulder? What if the words of songs like these were so ingrained in the conscious memory of the church, that they flowed forth between the sobs and the pain?
All psalms of lament (and there are A LOT of them) include four elements: an address, a complaint, a request, and an expression of trust, though not always in that order. By quoting two of them, I think Jesus gives us precedent and permission to:
1. Address God. Even in a very loud voice, cry out to God in the midst of pain! He listens with great empathy and compassion.
2. Complain. (I don’t like this. This is horrific. This doesn’t make sense. Why? When will it ever stop?) He has demonstrated in Scripture, an infinite tolerance for complaining.
3. Request. (Lord, do not be far from me. Let your face shine upon your servant. Save me in your unfailing love.) His promise is that He will never leave us, that he quiets us with His singing, and that He is, by his very nature, love that never fails. He may carry us through death, but He will carry us nonetheless.
4. Express trust. The psalter helps us do this. Just repeat the conclusion of Psalm 22:22,24 and Psalm 31:24, all together now…
For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help… Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”