Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
From his baptism to his transfiguration Jesus was on the run; staying one step ahead of the authorities, telling people not to tell what he has done, being obscure about who he is. Jesus has been running from Jerusalem to Capernaum, to Cana, Nazareth, Tyre, and Sidon. And eventually, he arrives at a mountainside in Caesarea Philippi. It is only upon reaching the mountain with Moses, Elijah, and three apostles, that he finally turns and faces Jerusalem. He physically turns toward Jerusalem to face what his Father has put before him. This turning point is where our Lenten journey also begins.
As we descend the mountain we see where we have been. We have been with Jesus, learning as he teaches and heals. We have followed him through thick and thin; wondering what is going to happen next; what new insights he has for us. And now at this very moment, the future becomes all too clear.
Some Pharisees come and say to Jesus, “Herod wants to kill you.” It is likely that our first instinct is to flee from harm’s way. But Jesus says, today is like yesterday and all the days before. I will continue my work, God’s work until the end.
This is when Jesus laments. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Jesus is lamenting the history of Jerusalem. He bewails the prophets’ blood that it has been taken. He regrets that the city of God, that was to protect God’s children, has not fulfilled its obligation. He mourns what Jerusalem should have been, what it could have been, and what will happen there again.
Lament is a perceptible expression of our sorrow, mourning, or regret. It is something that can be seen or heard by others. To our ears today, it seems to be an old-fashioned idea. A hundred years ago or so, people would wear black after the loss of their spouse. In some cultures, widows would wear black for the rest of her life. Family members and close friends would wear black for weeks or months. Over time, this period of lament shrank from a lifetime, to years, then months.
Back in my hospital days, I was on the floor preparing a patient for a scan. Down the hall, there was commotion, a group of people going in and out of the room. Apparently, a mother or grandmother had just died and the entire family, a large family, was wailing loudly as they beat their chests. Several of the nurses were trying to quit the crowd. But in my observation, I wasn’t so sure that they were offering this solace to console the family as much as it was out their own sense of discomfort. The staff on the floor was clearly uncomfortable with the movement and noise, the lamenting that was going on. Some cultures still seem to be much more open about expressions of lament than ours.
We are no longer of the era that Charles Dickens wrote about, in Oliver Twist, where people are paid to wail at funerals. In contrast, we seem to be at a point where we are not allowed to mourn for more than a few weeks. Beyond that, our friends and neighbors increasingly wonder if we are OK. People thinking that we should have gotten “over it” by now and we should get “on with life” again. Lament, whether out of mourning for a loss or deep regret is a form a prayer; a prayer in which we open ourselves up and let our soul cry out to God. Why are we in such a hurry to get through such a prayer? Why is it so unacceptable to our cultural values?
Abram laments. When God comes to him, Abram doesn’t care what more God will do for him. He is wealthy, he has a great wife, he has everything he desired except a child. When God said “don’t be afraid,” Abram takes him at his word and unloads his lament. Abram’s deepest pain comes from being elderly and having no son. He is the first in a long lineage to be barren and he laments to God about his pain. “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless… You have given me no offspring…"
Through this lament, Abram puts his pain and the blame squarely on God. God doesn’t strike Abram down with his fickle finger of fate. Instead, God hears Abram and is faithful to his prayer. God listens to his people. We see this later in Exodus, when God hears the lament of his people in Egypt and he sets them free from their captivity. Our God is not like the idol statues of Rome. Our God is a living God who hears us and listens to our laments.
In this time of Lent, we have the opportunity to do some soul searching and some lamenting. We can mourn for those who are no longer with us as we hope to be with them again. We can lament for the wrongs we have done to others and to our relationship with God. And we have the hope to know that through Christ we are restored to wholeness and forgiven. We can lament for what others have done in the world. And we have hope that this too will be restored in the last days. Lamenting is fervent prayer. And now that we have slowed down and begun our walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem, what more can we do than to lament?