Sunday, February 15, 2009

Learning to Lament

I've been pondering again about time and found something I read this week in the book of Jeremiah particularly intriguing. As Jeremiah proclaims God's judgment on his people's rebellion, he exhorts them:
Now, O women, hear the word of the LORD...
Teach your daughters how to wail;
teach one another a lament. (9:20)

In their sorrow over their sin and in their grief at the disaster coming on them, the people are to take the time to teach one another how to mourn. Isn't this so contrary to what we value in our culture? First, we want to think that we will live forever. Perhaps by ignoring death and our human frailty we will not be bound by fear of it. Secondly, the verse implies that lamenting takes time. As we move busily from one thing to the next, how are we supposed to have the time to teach each other how to lament, let alone find the time to mourn properly ourselves?

It's not a question of whether we should mourn or not: as Christians we should be genuinely sorrowful when we consider our sins. Also, there is so much pain and suffering in the world that even if we do not directly experience ourselves it we should learn how to "mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15). It seems to me that we in the church should be actively involved in both types of lamenting. I am grateful for the liturgies of repentance that have been used for centuries, and for so many of the Psalms that give us words of lament to pray. However, I think we in the North American church especially should devote more thought and time to mourning our sins and to mourning with others in their pain.

Beautifully, all this lamenting can be balanced by rejoicing. The poetry in Jeremiah 9 ends with this declaration:

but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,"
declares the LORD. (23)

Not only is he a God of judgment, but he is a god who delights in exercising kindness, justice and righteousness in the midst of our fallen world. He is the one who has freed us to mourn loss at death but not fear it, for

"he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." (Hebrews 2:14)

It is my hope that I will grow into this business of taking time - time to lament, and time to rejoice.

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