Lament, in and for the Church

The largest group of Psalms are Laments, (both individual and corporate), because there is so much to lament about! During my year as Moderator, Ruth and I received both a sanitised view of the Church and also real and deep insights. It was sanitised because the Moderator was usually invited to special events where numbers were larger and people upbeat. Yet the role also allowed you to get “behind the scenes,” for the inside story. People at every level would open up, not just for who you were but because they knew they would never see you again!

While there was the joy of opening a new building or seeing the formation of a new congregation, there was also another side. Once, I was in the vestry with an Interim Moderator, five minutes before a service to mark a 150th Anniversary, when I was informed “You know this congregation is closing in three weeks and they are hoping you will say something to them”. I didn’t know! I wasn’t prepared and I knew nothing about the background. However 15 minutes later I had to speak directly into their pain as I mentally adjusted from a celebration to a wake.  The numbers were large as people had returned, both to celebrate and to mourn. After the service, over a congregational lunch, all around the walls was a photo exhibition of better days in the congregation’s life, full of children, laughter and life. It was a time to lament; memories were bitter-sweet. Had the glory departed?

The Psalms of Lament are not an excuse for self-pity but a vehicle to help us work through our deep feelings, whether they be loss, burning injustice or even hate. Their raw spirituality invites us to an authentic intimacy. Instead of being nice to God and nasty to others, they invite us “to tell it as it is” to our God, who has big shoulders. They invite us to be human and to confront reality, while hanging on to our faith (even if only by our fingertips). Written in poetry to get behind prose and pretence, they slow us down and help us to get in touch with our feelings.

So, as we listened to a sofa-surfer in London tell of a history of sexual abuse and exploitation that had left her alone, abandoned and homeless; as young adults told their tales of their pathways into addiction, or why they had ended up in prison, lament allowed us to scream “This is not right”. We let it out to God. Lament is not a safety valve, allowing you to move on unaffected, but a dialogue with God which may well motivate you to action. It encourages you to remember God, to articulate your complaint to him and to cry for help. But it doesn’t stop there. It encourages us to renew our confidence in God, and to look forward in hope for God to hear and answer.

As we travelled around we always met stand-out people; ordinary people doing extraordinary things. But we were not blind to the absence of children, the shortage of ministers, unsatisfactory buildings and a weariness of well-doing that could so easily become destructive of call, family life and identity. At the heart of our faith is Jesus whose death and resurrection remind us that the questions of lament “My God, my God, why…?” are never the final word. The empty tomb, however, is only found by way of a cross.

Hang on in there and keep in touch both with God and others.