Lent & Lament

So, what does Lent have to do with lament?

Generally speaking, Lent is a time to reflect not only on Christ and the last days leading to his death and resurrection, but also a time to consider our need for the mercy and grace of God.

Lament, on the other hand, wrestles with the painful realities of this world, in and outside our lives.  These realities are constant.  Mass shootings, discrimination (often violence) against marginalized communities, suicides, human and sex trafficking, and drug overdose only capture a fraction of the pain that grips this world.

Lament and Lent, then, complement one another as they bring into sharp focus the reality of suffering.

Herein lies the rub.  Most of us would rather focus on happiness and success.  And if it was within our control, we would arrange our lives in such a way as to distance ourselves from suffering, especially suffering that others experience.  For example, one need only observe the extent to which the homeless community is often treated as a pariah.  Thus, in our efforts to script out pain, many are determined to pursue a life that is as convenient and pain-free as possible.  However, the cost of such a path is the loss of lament.

D.A. Carson offers this remark on biblical lament: “There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering.  They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God.  Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God.”[1]

 

Biblical lament invites us to wrestle with God.  To not turn from our pain or the pain others experience, but to bring it before God. 

 

 

This can include grieving, praying, crying, protesting, questioning, and even silence.

Indeed, we are invited to wrestle with God in numerous ways.  In the process, lament becomes an opportunity, alone as well as in community, to experience the power and hope of God and his gospel.

There are at least two ways we can lament, individually and together, as a witness to the gospel.

  • Lament creates space to listen to stories of struggle and suffering.  

    Soong Chan Rah comments: “Our historical reflection reveals an obsession with success and celebration while stories of survival and suffering are ignored.  History is often told by the victorious and therefore favors them.”[2]  Lament, then, helps us to not focus so much on success stories that we neglect stories of failure and cries for help.

  • Lament pursues the justice and righteousness of God in all areas of life.  

    Kathleen O’Connor remarks: “Laments create room within the individual and the community not only for grief and loss, but also for seeing and naming injustice.  Laments name the weeping and fracturing of relationships – personal, political, domestic, ecclesial, national, and global.  The point of lamenting is… to name injustice, hurt, and anger.”[3]  As a result, lament helps us to be attentive to injustices that are local and abroad, as well as engage these issues with wisdom and compassion.

In this season of lent, may we increasingly learn to lament in ways that are life-giving.  Lent reminds us that Christ set his gaze towards Jerusalem, knowing he would be crucified on the cross for our sin and suffering.  Yet, it also reminds us that despite the pervasive narrative in which death wins regardless of a pain-free life, Christ offers a radical alternative.  The wisdom and love of God is that our suffering and our stories are intimately wrapped up by faith in Christ’s suffering and his story.  And his gospel story is one in which sin, suffering, and death do not have the last word.

In Christ, life has the last word.

May this season of Lent, and the seasons to come, be a time in which you increasingly rest in Christ and lament with hope.

 

Footnotes:
[1] Bill Muehlenberg, “The Lament Psalms,” (CultureWatch, 2012).
[2] Soong Chan Rah, Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015).
[3] Kathleen M. O’Connor, Lamentations and the Tears of the World (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 128.