Sunday, 1 July 2018

Raising A Lament

"Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me;your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished! (2 Samuel 1.25b-27)
He was an emotional type was David. Stupidly brave, of course. Also inclined to the lustful. Bear in mind this is the man who later in his career looked out of a window, saw Bathsheba in the bath and decided it was best to have sex with her and arrange the death of her husband.

Ironic that he looked out the window and saw Bathsheba having a bath. Outside the other window, meanwhile,  her sister Beersheba was having a beer. Would have been a lot less trouble.

Anyway - point is David wore his heart on his sleeve. Except that time when he danced before the Lord with all his might, in the nude. He didn't even have a sleeve that time. Please note to ordinands in the Church of England - this is even less appropriate than leaping in the air as a way to celebrate ordination.
But on this occasion David's king, Saul, has died in battle. Now Saul and David didn't always get on - what with Saul randomly either being David's friend or wanting to kill him in a fit of jealousy. And Saul's son - David's dearest friend - Jonathan has died as well.

And we see again at this point that King David is not English. I'd like you to imagine King David played by Sir Alec Guinness. "What's that? Saul and Jonathan dead?" King David (played by Sir Alec Guinness) looks slightly sad for a moment. "OK, Ginger. Let's push on. I'm king now. We need to get to get this all sorted before nightfall."

No. He stops and weeps. He raises a lament. He is not afraid to tell out the sadness - to tell it with honesty.

And contrast that attitude with the typical English to any kind of problem. Ask a typical English church person how they're doing. And let's assume there's some major or long-running disaster or problem in their lives. The stock response will be a happy "Yes, everything is fine." Or.... more popular in some parts - "Yes, everything is fine. You know...." accompanied by a martyr's smile and the look into the middle distance that says ".... but there is so much more.... But I'm strong."

So there's that typical response - doubled up when you belong to the sort of church where to be in any kind of trouble, to allow that Jesus has allowed your life to be anything less than perfect, is a kind of sin. But let's ignore that, and stick to the way we respond to our troubles in life in prayer.

The Bible is full of people in trouble, and records their responses to God. And they are honest to God. When Job has lost his family and his wealth and he's ill, he's not afraid to say that he is not happy -
“May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’That day—may it turn to darkness;     may God above not care about it;    may no light shine on it.May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more;    may a cloud settle over it;     may blackness overwhelm it.That night—may thick darkness seize it; may it not be included among the days of the year nor be entered in any of the months.
The prophet Jeremiah is never short of lament. When the apostle Paul speaks of his own nation the Jews and realises so many have not come to Jesus, he does not keep quiet:
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit—  I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race,  the people of Israel. (Rom 9)
There are 150 psalms in the  Book of Psalms - more than 60 are psalms of lament. Some of those finish with the expectation that the Psalmist will be vindicated. A few have no happy ending at all. The words that characterise the Book of Psalms are "How Long, O Lord?" as much as "Hallelujah". The Spirit that inspires praise and happiness just as much inspires honest lament, fills sadness as much as joy.

In short - the Bible is a record of people being utterly honest with God, and prepared to be honest about their feelings with each other. Now, many of us are English. Let's not just pretend we can go being honest with each other. Not least as, many of us are English. And therefore won't want to deal with it. But it would be good, would it not, to be able when somebody says "how are you today", to say, "actually, I've had a rotten day. My spouse is acting like a horse's backside, I've a massive hangover and when I get home I'll have to use a cattle prod to get my kids to tidy up their rooms. By the way, nice sermon, vicar."

Well, if you can't say that at Church, at least you can say that to God. A lament is the most honest of prayers. It doesn't pretend that things are good. It doesn't mean that you've given up hope. It means you're saying to God, look - this is the way things are. And frankly it hurts. And I need you to do something about it. Even if you just sympathise, that's a start. Then, frankly God, if you're the one who made me, and let's be honest who has left me in this situation - do you think you could do something about it?

It's probably fair to say that some of those new reverends who were leaping in the pictures on the Church Times website last week - or last year - or ten years ago, before the leaping - are learning about that kind of prayer by now.

Among the last words of Jesus on the cross are the words of a lament, from Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  The reminder that God was able to be lowered to the point of lament. Of brokenness. Of being without help. The way through pain is not always a miraculous recovery. The way of Jesus is not easy. But God meets us at the depths of lament. 

Even in the typical Anglican Church, where the royal coat of arms was put up to remind everybody who was in charge. Even there, the symbol of Christian faith is a cross. A reminder that God is on the side of the weak. God is on the side of the conquered. God is on the side of the poor. God is on the side of everyone in need. In our weakness, that is when God is closest to us. Meets us at the point where we are lowest. Shares and carries our pain. And carries it to the heart of the Father.

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