Of course, we grieve today. Of course, Jesus would recall from the cross one of the great psalms of his people – a psalm of lament:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest (Psalm 22:1-2).
We seek answers. We want explanations that assure us that after all, God is in his heaven and all is right with the world. “Did God know from the beginning that Jesus was going to die on a cross? Was it God’s plan all along? Ah, then this suffering is justified,” we say. And, gosh, we feel better.
And while we are questioning the Lord Almighty, let’s get to the bottom of this pandemic that has us all terrified: “How did this happen? Whom shall we blame? Is God really OK that we are not gathering in worship this Sunday to celebrate Easter? Are you kidding me? Did anyone see this coming?”
But finding answers is not the point, says N. T. Wright in an article in Time magazine this past week. “It is not part of the Christian vocation,” he says, “to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain – and to lament instead.”
Perhaps what we need in this season, says Wright, “is to recover the biblical tradition of lament. Lament is what happens when people ask, ‘Why?’ and don’t get an answer.”
Philip Stevenson, priest of blessed memory, used to say when grieving parishioners asked him, “Why?” that it was the wrong question. Ask, instead, he would say, “Where do I see God in this?”
“The point of lament,” getting back to Wright, “is not just that it’s an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments,” he says.
What if we turned Psalm 22 around and put it in the mouth of God:
“My people, my people, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from listening to me
and the words of my longing for you?”
As Wright points out, God was heartbroken again and again when his own people turned away from him and went a-whoring after other gods, in the words of scripture (judges 2:16). God in Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. God longed to gather Jerusalem to himself “as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Lk 13:34, Matt 23:37). But Jerusalem did not, would not, listen.
If there is a time for everything, this is a time for lament. We need not go far to find the words: two-thirds of the psalms are psalms of lament. Yes, yes, we lean forward to the hope of Easter. Yes, we know that death does not have the final say. But if we are going to walk the entire way with Jesus this week, today we lament.
N. T. Wright concludes his article: “As the spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell.” And out of that, he suggests, may come new hope, new understanding, new possibilities, and new wisdom.
For the complete N. T. Wright article go here.
For an excellent companion article from the N. T. Wright Online website, go to ntwrightonline.org
For the full lectionary readings for Good Friday, go here.
Marjorie George serves the Diocese of West Texas as a consultant in Adult Christian Formation. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or leave a reply below.