I saw a neighbor on Easter Sunday and they commented to me from across the street, “I hope your Easter has been great!” I immediately thought to myself, “My Easter was fine.”
“Fine???” I thought to myself, “Luke, you are a Pastor, get your act together, ‘He is Risen!’ Smile! Turn that frown upside down and get over yourself. It could be worse. Now be a good soldier and chin up!”
As much as I tried to convince myself to be happier on Easter Sunday, I couldn’t muster up the courage to sing, “Oh happy day.” Instead, I just wanted to lament, I wanted to join the psalmist and cry, “How long O Lord?” (Psalm 13:1).
In the days that have followed Easter Sunday, I’ve learned this wasn’t a bad thing, but a biblical thing where the Spirit was doing some work that can only be done through lamenting. This Easter taught me not to live into a “culturally pastel pasted happy-go-lucky Easter” but a, “God, not being with my church family in our worship gathering on the day we remember and proclaim your resurrection from the dead, breaks my heart, and I am lamenting this. My heart is broken.”
As followers of The Way we must reclaim what it means to lament, for lamenting is not to be a negative Christian but a biblical Christian. Too often we have used Pseudo-Christian phrases to encourage people to get their act together, “He is Risen! What problems do you really have?”, “Just smile!”, “Jesus died on the cross not for you to frown, but to smile.” While these phrases come with good intentions, they usually are not helpful, nor edifying in our sanctification process. Lamenting has a way of sanctifying us in a way joy or happy feelings cannot.
What we are doing, in saying those phrases, is sweeping real emotions under the rug and pretending like everything's okay, when what our resurrected, saved by the blood of Jesus, saintly souls need to do is to lament… to cry out to God. To lament, to cry out to God, is the invitation of the Psalms in the Word of God, inspired by the Spirit of God.
It’s always struck me that there are more laments in the book of Psalms than any other type. It’s also struck me that when Christ hung on the cross, he recited a lamenting psalm (Psalm 22). If the psalms are the soundtrack of life, as J.D. Walt has said, then amidst the rejoicing, laughing, and crying of life - we should expect some lamenting.
Learning to lament is a part of our sanctification, where our hearts learn to speak, with openness, to the heart of God. However, it’s important to know what’s going on in the hearts of lamenters. Lamenters don’t whine, lamenters don’t blame, lamenters are not conspiracy theorists (as I often am!) - lamenters are children of the Father, asking the Father questions and crying out to the Father. Lamenters are heirs of the Kingdom that is almost, not yet, and have permission to cry because it’s still almost, and our hearts are so ready for God’s Kingdom in full and we want God to do something about it.
I love the way Brian D. Russell has put it concerning lamenting, “The assumptions of a lament are that the pray-er’s present circumstances do not line up with the abundant life of God’s Kingdom and that God can do something about it.”
So, when a deadly virus sweeps across the earth so that the people of God cannot physically gather to worship the Triune God on Easter Sunday, I think lamenting is in order. When my children cannot simply play with their friends on a picture perfect Easter Sunday, I think lamenting is in order. To lament is not to downplay God’s goodness, it’s a lifting up of God’s goodness because in lamenting we go to the one who is utterly good and eternally loving.
To lament is to cry out to the voice of life while a spirit of death sweeps across our land.
So when we lament, we are not bashing the world, politicians, or the mass media. Instead of pointing the finger of blame at people, we raise our hearts to the Creator of the World to do great things, to stretch out his hand to heal, to save. We are learning to be children of God who expect great things from God because he’s done the greatest thing ever - sent Jesus, that Jesus would be faithful by living for us, suffering for us, dying for us, being buried for us, rising for us, and now ascended for us.
This God we lament to, is the God who reigns without rival, whose Kingdom knows no end, who shaped the cliffs of Mount Everest, who can tame the mighty Mississippi, who can kill a virus, yet is still gentle with us, to know our every need and be our Abba, Father, the One who is a very present help in a time of trouble (Psalm 46:1).
To lament is to mourn and bring harsh words (see Psalm 77) that expose the uncensored depths of our hearts (Psalm 138:23-24), that our mourning would turn to dancing and our harsh words be stilled by the gentle words of the One who says to us, “Come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).
Lamenters aren’t stuck in an “oh bother” Eeyore life. Lamenters are real Christians in the real world on this side of glory, crying out to the One who entered this side of glory to show us what the Kingdom is really like and ever since then our hearts burn with desire for it and we lament anything not of it.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, noted, “The great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not.” Lamenters name the fact this is a fallen world, yet demand that our emotions, stemming from this fallen world, surrender to the One who loves us through and through, ever and ever without end, guaranteed from God sending Jesus (1John 4:9).
So yes, my Easter was fine, and I make no apologies for it. I did not downplay the resurrection. Resurrection from the dead took on a whole new meaning as I lamented to the resurrected One asking that He would resurrect our world, saturated in a spirit of death that is wailing and groaning in social distancing, furloughs, and executive orders.
If you are in marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9), then to fail to lament when a spirit of darkness comes, is to pretend darkness does not exist, thus allowing it to continue. We lamenters know the King and His Kingdom, we’ve tasted the goodness of God, and we must be stubborn as mules to lament of darkness, asking that the face of God would shine upon our land (Psalm 80:19).
To lament is to cry, “Shine, Jesus Shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory, blaze Spirit blaze, set our hearts on fire…”
Need to lament? Let’s pray, “Abba, Father, creation is groaning, the world is in chaos, where are you?!? You are the One, you can do it! Split seas O God, Make COVID-19 nothing but a memory, let your people physically gather in worship together again, hands held high, voices singing like never before O God. How long, Lord, how long? Until then, hear our cries, for they are to you, and you alone, our sovereign, reigning without rival God, who is the God of the living. The God of the heart that is bursting with joy and the heart that is lamenting in loneliness. Come Holy Spirit, tune our hearts to be real and open to you. In the name of Jesus, the victor over the grave and the voice that says to those in the grave, “Come out!”. Amen.
Luke is Pastor of Discipleship to the community of saints, in Christ, at Nashville UMC.