I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit … (Lamentations 3:55)
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress … (Psalm 31:1)
Today’s readings include prayers of lament. Quite simply, a lament is a complaint and scripture is filled with prayers that complain to God. When I was a child and was taught the various ways to pray, lament was not included as one of the modes of prayer. Even though lament runs deep I the Judeo-Christian tradition, we modern folks have been loath to incorporate it into our faith practices. It doesn’t fit very neatly into our polite demeanor before God.
It is time to recover this particular language of prayer and vigorously embrace it. When our current worship book (Evangelical Lutheran Worship) came out some years back, it was good to see that all the psalms were included (in previous resources some of the strongly expressive lament psalms were omitted) and that there is now a section of lament hymns.
I bet you feel like lamenting in these days of the global pandemic. You cannot go to school or play baseball or participate in spring graduation. You cannot join your siblings in Christ at church or go your favorite places to hang out or visit your friends in their homes. Being locked down feels like being locked up. On top of all of this, neighbors around the globe are suffering from the coronavirus.
It is a good to complain about these things and to bring such complaint to God in prayer. Unprocessed grief or grief that isn’t expressed often gets channeled into an anger toward ourselves or others that is hurtful. The promise of lament is that expressions of grief are expressions of hope.
Jesus uttered a psalm of lament on the cross. It was an honest cry to God in a place of desolation. Jesus really died and really felt forsaken. There was no silver lining on that Friday, but three days later came Easter. Resurrection. The hope of the Gospel is that the God who dwells with us in times like these is also at work transforming us and bringing life out of death.
For faith practices you may want to pray a psalm of lament, sing a hymn of lament, or express these feelings through writing in a journal or painting a picture or through some other work of art, and remember that nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ our Lord.
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.
In this letter, Paul is writing to the Philippians from prison. We cannot compare our current stay at home order to being imprisoned, but we certainly share in many of the feelings Paul must have felt; uncertain, afraid, caged, helpless. And yet, Paul also writes with a great sense of freedom and hope and understanding of the death before the new life. He’s bold and he asks them to be bold too.
As Paul encourages these people to live their lives for Christ, the words that popped out to me were “striving side by side”. Side by side!??!?! That’s taken on an entirely different meaning now that we have to stay at least six feet apart. We are exploring how to stay connected in completely new ways, many of us zooming into the land of technology never before fully utilized or appreciated, as well as returning to simpler ways of old; a walk, a wave, a smile, a note, a phone call.
I’m inviting you to be “side by side” in two different ways this weekend:
- Live Sunday School on Zoom at 10am on Sunday join with this link https://zoom.us/j/446474795 All are invited, but this Palm Sunday experience will be geared toward our elementary age kiddos.
- Volunteer Via Video Remember that word we buried a few weeks ago? Yes. That one. This is a super secret mission!!! We need your help to bring “that word” back. All you have to do is send a short video of you saying it to Nicole. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook or text messages work too. Be creative and joyful!!!
Patrick’s Reflection: An Undesired Vulnerability
I found out about myself this morning while reading Richard Rohr’s daily meditation. Speaking of our current worldwide situation, he observes:
For many of us, this may be the first time in our lives that we have felt so little control over our own destiny and the destiny of those we love. This lack of control initially feels like a loss, a humiliation, a stepping backward, an undesired vulnerability. However, recognizing our lack of control is a universal starting point for a serious spiritual walk towards wisdom and truth.
This describes the condition I find myself in, and what I’ve heard is so hard about these days for many of you. It’s not complicated. We are simply used to being in control of our destiny and our schedule. While normal life brings moments of unexpected changes, we are still usually equipped to deal with them and those moments pass. This feels different.
The reality is, as hard as it is for me to admit, that feeling of being in control of my own destiny was an illusion to begin with. Whatever control I had was largely due to the way society meters out privilege and power to certain groups over others. It’s not from a place of God-ordained lasting truth, despite the tendency of us in power to think so. The opportunity of this season, therefore, is to tap into the eternal truth within this new reality that is in front of us every day. We were never in control. As Pastor Anne said yesterday, “I can’t carry this procession by myself, but neither can you. It turns out, we never could.”
What an opportunity this undesired vulnerability offers. As we move toward the Easter celebration, and eventually to a return of our normal lives, may we never forget this unusual Lenten season when the gift of God’s provision, and not our own power, was our only hope.
Even working from home, we have a chance to help some of our most vulnerable neighbors. Columbia Lutheran Home has shared resources to create masks, robes, and notes of encouragement. These items are in tremendous need, and will go a long way toward helping staff and residents be safe and feel cared for during this crisis. See this pdf for more information. Even if you aren’t a sewer, people of all ages and abilities can create artwork or notes of encouragement. Thanks for your help!
Answer me quickly, O Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me,
or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
Pastor Anne’s Reflection
In Psalm 143, we hear the prophet lamenting about how difficult things are, yet still finding hope in God’s promises. So today I’m sharing my own poem of lament and hope. I wonder where you might see yourself in the procession I refer to below. We are marching toward Holy Week, maybe as disoriented as those who did it the first time. Perhaps the gift is that we’ll be able to understand it in profound new ways.
I’m packin’ up for Palm Sunday.
We’re heading to Jerusalem, like always.
But this year, the parade is different.
And I’ve got four kids in tow.
I see, now more than ever,
how much we need one another
So I’m thankful for the diversity of this crowd.
For the ones who are reading,
the ones who are writing,
the ones who are building and growing and producing,
the ones making liturgy
and the ones singing and praying.
The ones who seem to have endless energy
and the ones who model Sabbath.
I’m thankful for the ones who lead us,
the ones who feed us.
The doctors and nurses
and those tending the groceries.
I see you, making art,
and toiling away.
I see the ones engineering,
I see the ones keeping peace.
I’ll do my part. But I’ve got four kids in tow.
I guide them through the chaos,
help them survive this new procession,
and their grief
and their fear
without getting hurt.
I’ll do my part.
If someone falls down
while we’re walking this bumpy road,
I’ve got bandaids.
And if someone has an accident,
I’m sure there are wipes in here somewhere.
I’ve got snacks.
I’ve got fish crackers and coffee and wine to share.
If you get bored or worried,
I can lead us in a song, with hand motions.
I will pray, and comfort, and entertain, and pray again.
This backpack is heavy
but it has endless tricks and treats.
I can’t carry this procession by myself,
but neither can you.
You’ve got aging parents to watch for
and sick neighbors to check on.
You’ve got a dog to feed
and a job to keep up with.
You’ve got your own kids,
your own baggage,
your own work to do.
I’ll stop to care for those I can.
And so will you.
If you want to chat for a bit while we process,
I will, when I can,
but I’ve got four kids in tow,
and I’m doing the best I can.
I can’t carry this procession by myself,
but neither can you.
It turns out, we never could.
We walk together,
each doing our part.
It’s a big crowd, and between us
we have every gift we need.
So no need for envy.
No time for criticism.
No reason to compare.
We’ll get there, but
it will take the whole of us,
every last one,
taking turns being weak and being strong.
I’m a pastor mom
walking the pandemic procession.
I’m doing the best I can.
And so are you.
And we’re all following Jesus.
Pastor Bryon’s Reflection
Today, the church commemorates the English poet and priest John Donne (1572-1631). The lectionary readings for today are an echo of last Sunday when Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave. I found a rich intersection between today’s readings and the works of John Donne.
The prophet Elisha raises a child from death (2 Kings 4:18-37); the psalmist pleads for deliverance from death (Psalm 143); and in an obvious description of Holy Baptism, Paul points to the good news that though we were once dead through our trespasses, out of great love, God made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10).
With apology for the seventeenth century non-gender-inclusive language, note how John Donne gave voice to the witness of scripture that death will not have the final say:
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which yet thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more, must low
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate men
And dost with poison, war and sickness dwell,
And poppy or harms an make us sleep as well
And better than they stroke; why swell’st thou then?
Once short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
This journey of Lent began with ashes placed on our foreheads and the sober reminder that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.” Like me, perhaps you feel the truth of the sign of ashes in our current global pandemic. The ashes call us to honestly acknowledge the truth about ourselves, but even more, call us to renounce the deathly things to seem to offer life – greed, hatred, spiritual self-righteousness. God undergirds this call with God’s promises that death does not and will not have the final say. Since Christ is risen we live with hope and trust that God is always at work summoning life from ashes.
Physical distancing and the “stay at home orders” are necessary actions in the face of a virus that eats away at life. Yet, in the midst of this necessary sequestering I find myself noticing, not just death, but the stuff of life. Maybe because I cannot be with people except through the virtual world, I have a new appreciation for persons in my life who are living reminders of God’s mercy. This gives me hope and reminds me that pandemics, and not even death itself will separate us from the love of God in and through Christ.
Death be not proud … and death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
Thanks be to God!
I remember the days of old,
I think about all your deeds,
I meditate on the works of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
– Psalm 143:5–6
What is that beautiful yet mysterious word right there in italics? Have you noticed it before when reading Psalms? Here’s what author, Glennon Doyle, says about it in her new book Untamed. One of my favorite words is selah. Selah is found in the Hebrew Bible seventy-four times. Scholars believe that when it appears in the text, it is a direction to the reader to stop reading and be still for a moment, because the previous idea is important enough to consider deeply. The poetry in scripture is meant to transform, and the scribes knew that change begins through reading but can be completed only in quiet contemplation. Selah appears in Hebrew music, too. It’s believed to be a signal to the music director to silence the choir for a long moment, to hold space between notes. The silence of course, is when then music sinks in. Selah is the holy silence when the recipient of transformational words, music…pauses long enough to be changed forever.