The Bible and the Christian calendar make ample space for lament, which is the expression of deep and passionate grief and suffering. It is important to note that forty percent of the Psalms feature lament.
Jesus quotes from a psalm of lament while hanging on the cross. Jesus utters the cry of dereliction taken from Psalm 22:1 as he hangs from that shameful scaffold. The question he recites also hangs in midair. The following quotation from Psalm 22 begins with that questioning cry:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2; NIV)
The season of Lent focuses on lament. Lent is underway now. It runs more than forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Lent focuses on our sinful condition and mortality as humans. It also prepares us for Jesus’ passion, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and life of union with the risen Jesus. Lent bears witness to the biblical story of the believer’s journey with Jesus.
The Apostle Paul does not discount suffering and death in his account of union with Jesus. As he writes in Philippians 3:10-11, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11; NIV). Paul loved the Lord Jesus deeply and wanted union with the whole of Jesus’ life, not just a part. He did not bypass participation in suffering and likeness in Jesus’ death. Paul understood that we must go through the crucifixion to get to the resurrection. Paul took to heart that Jesus’ resurrection glory is always cruciform. In this light, a liturgy of celebration that is truly biblical must make rightful place for lament.
Marriage vows also include consideration of lament in addition to celebration. Marriage vows may go something like the following: “I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith [or] pledge myself to you.” Just like our union with Jesus, so it is with a marriage between two people, intimacy requires cultivating connections in good times and bad: “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” The same is true for deep and meaningful friendships. True friends stay close in the best of times and the worst of times. Of course, staying true in trying times is not easy. In fact, it can be painstakingly difficult. Sometimes we even fail miserably to be true to Jesus and to other loved ones. I am just so thankful that Jesus does not give up on us when we falter and fail in relation to him. He invites us and helps us get back up and join him again and again on the journey.
The Bible and the Christian calendar account for the fact that life is not one celebration after another. People experience tragedies and deep disappointments, including in relationships, throughout their life journeys. If we do not acknowledge and process tragedies and deep disappointments, including with God, we will not live honestly in our relationships with God and other believers. If we do not account for lament in our Scripture meditations and worship music, we will have an imbalanced liturgical diet which will stunt our spiritual growth. A liturgy of lament is key to victorious Christian living and relational intimacy.
My wife and I are experiencing an inordinate amount of grief presently, as our son Christopher is on life support. “Christopher” means “bearer of Christ.” We are so grateful for the fact that Jesus bears our Christopher. Jesus also bears our burdens now. We do not have to bury our grief and questions regarding God and life, including our family’s present horrific ordeal. God’s Word invites us to be honest with God, just as Jesus was honest with God in his cry of dereliction on the cross. We are also grateful for family and friends who bear with us and suffer with us. They empathize with us and the rest of our family amid our grief and pain, even while crying out to God to raise up our son victoriously from his hospital bed to new life with us here and now. God bless them.
Lament in Scripture in the Bible and the season of Lent in the Christian calendar may be difficult to process. But still, anyone who does not make them part of their spiritual and liturgical diet will find that they are ill-prepared for the devastating blows that life brings their way. A life without lament and Lent is an even more bitter pill to swallow in the long run. So, if we wish to live a victorious Christian life for the long haul, let’s make sufficient space for lament in our devotions and public worship throughout the years.
For more on my meditations on the season of Lent, refer to my latest book Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse (Cascade 2020). The following interview found below, which I did recently with leaders at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW), includes consideration of lament and Lent.