LENTEN LAMENTATION

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At the end of this week followers of Jesus will bring to completion their Lenten observance.  They will have named and denied their self-life, shouldered the weight of costly self-sacrifice with Jesus, and come to the Garden and the Cross.  They will remember Jesus’ loud cries and tears at the cup handed him, and then his wailing from the cross: “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”  At the end of next week, we will follow Jesus into extreme “lamentation.”

His people—the historic People of God—had learned to lament.  When death stalked their children, when drought scorched their crops, when pestilence enshrouded their villages, cities, and nation, when enemies threatened, besieged, defeated and displaced or destroyed them … they lamented:

“Why?”

“How long?

“When?”

“Help!”

“Now!”

“Stop!”

“Listen!”

“Please!”

This Holy Week all of us to some degree inhabit places of lamentation.  Pandemics work this way. The whole world seems under siege, fears the worst for the most vulnerable, and struggles to see beyond the woes looming largely before us.  Inside and outside the followership of Jesus many of us catch ourselves lamenting.

“Why?”

“How long?

“When?”

“Help!”

“Now!”

“Stop!”

“Listen!”

“Please!”

Naturally, we want to know “Why?”  But is there an explanation that answers our “abandonment,” that would make it okay to struggle on alone?  Is there a rationale that mitigates the pain, the loss, the deep dark pit that would swallow us? (As we plummet into the darkness, would it help to go down with an explanation?)   And in the absence of an “answer,” are we then re-abandoned?  Aren’t we just worse off, though nothing has really changed?  So, we cry even louder, “Why?”

Of course, we want to know “How long?” and “when?” and then demand, “Now!” (with or without, “Please!”)  But would it really comfort us to know how long, when every second we suffer feels eternal?  Would assurance that it will be only a few more “eternities” (AKA “seconds”) really help us in our painful never-ending now?

We know from scripture, tradition, and experience that our cries matter, or they should, that there must be a space where attentive ears are poised to listen and a heart is soft enough to break with ours.  So, we lament, “Listen!”  “Stop!” “Please!”  But is there a word we could hear that assuages our lament?  Would it help if heaven thundered back, “I hear you!”  Perhaps.  But once the rumbling stilled, wouldn’t others, maybe we ourselves, surmise it was just “thunder”?

So, on and on we lament our way through the week we now call “holy.”  In view of a global pandemic visiting every village, town, city, state, province, region, nation, and continent.  Visiting by infecting victims who often become aware only after they have perhaps acted as agents of the attack, not least upon their nearest and dearest.  Visiting by quarantine, by sheltering safely, by self-isolating strategy—in places where these are even possibilities.  And from those places we lament.  But in other places where the only option is a life immersed with others, totally dependent and interactive with others, life not really viable on any other terms.  In those places come cries of lamentation.  And for those places—we join them in lamentation.   We lament the most imminent and pressing scourge now upon us, which then heightens multiple other scourges and contagion chronically with us.  Indeed, we lament all these.

“Why?”

“How long?

“When?”

“Help!”

“Now!”

“Stop!”

“Listen!”

“Please!”

But, toward the end of the week, as our weakened and hoarse cries falter and fade, Another Voice joins ours and takes up our cries with us and for us:

That Voice, prostate in the dirt, mingling tears and blood with the dust, sickened and sorrowed, knowing fully the worst that can and will come, from the midst of the gloom, calls in anguish: “Really?  Seriously?  This is the only way? …  Ok, Ok.”

Then, torn and hung between heaven and earth, nailed down, tied down, dropped down, stretched taut, ripping and gasping, gathering breath and voice to cry out with us but also for us: “Why have you abandoned me?”

 

Moments later, having fully lamented, we hear:

“Abba, forgive …,

“into your hands, Abba … ,” and

“Abba,  it is done!”

 

Every Holy Week in the church’s history, the friends of Jesus follow him into lamentation, and are surprised to learn Jesus has followed them into their anguish and voices the same protests and pleas they do!

Then …

What an answer or explanation, a reason or purpose or time-line could never do, a Presence and Power with us wondrously does.

 

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