Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Lamentation

 "Christ in the Wilderness the Hen" 
by Stanley Spencer





















"Lamentation"

Rev. Paul Mitchell

Vashon United Methodist Church

March 17, 2019

Lamentations 1:1-6; Luke 13:22,31-35


Mourning is our response to death or significant loss – or even the
anticipation of certain loss. It does not signify the feeling as much as the
response. It’s constituted by behaviors such as somber clothing, keeping
vigil, gathering in mutual support, in some cultures keening or wailing.
Lamentation is the prayer form that occurs when we mourn. It’s different
from petition or intercession, because its only request is that God will take
notice of our loss. We mourn the loss of life in the mosques in New Zealand
on Friday. We lament our complicity in in fomenting distrust and hate
between Muslims and other children of God. In lamentation we acknowledge
and claim that the loss is ours – not just the loss of an unknown “other.”
In the Gospel narrative today, Jesus is approaching Jerusalem. We often
assume he knows exactly what will happen in his final weeks – though that’s
not necessarily demanded by the Gospel texts. In this text, a poignant and
ironic reference to the third day and that his purpose lies beyond the third
day, is a case in point. Luke, of course, is writing after the fact – possibly
long after the fact, and so he knows what the third day is all about. Jesus
may not have known exactly what awaited him, but was simply following the
path that was laid out for him by the prophets – the path that led many of
them to their demise in Jerusalem. He was being fully true to his authentic
self in the moment.
So for Jesus, Jerusalem probably did not represent merely his own passion,
but moreso the long lamented relationship between God and the people that
was personified in the city where earth meets heaven.
Animosity and nostalgia – or you could say anger and regret – are a potent
mix for Luke’s audience. Luke’s gospel was written after the destruction of
Jerusalem by the Roman Empire. The city is in rubble, and the temple is
desecrated – it’s marble and precious metals repurposed in Roman imperial
building projects. More poignantly, its peoples are scattered – Jews,
Gentiles, and proto-Christians. There is animosity toward the corrupt
politicians who wrung blood from stones in their disregard for their subjects,
and whose brutal mismanagement brought about the ultimate imperial
intervention. Just as they were half a millennium earlier, the people who saw
themselves as the children of God lamented in exile because they and their
leaders had been unfaithful to the God of Israel – and it seemed that the
God of Israel had abandoned them.
It was said that the Babylonian exile began when the people could no longer
perceive the Shekinah, or glory, of God in the temple. As Luke writes, it is a
generation or more since the second destruction of the temple and exile of
the people. This time, however, it does not look like the empire that
dispersed them is likely to enable their return. The people ache for a return
from exile. And God weeps and yearns for her people to return within her
wings. 
God weeps.
Over Jerusalem God weeps and laments and broods.
The brooding of the mother hen is the same as the brooding of the Spirit
over the waters of creation. It is one of those parental instincts – to brood
over one’s children – both those who linger and those who wander – perhaps
more over those who stray. And like God, it is not for her own benefit that
the hen fusses and guides her young – but for her children’s’ benefit.
Prayer, like alienation from God, is a state of being. Prayer can encompass
every aspect of our state of being. So, we are not speaking of the words –
beautiful and evocative as they may be – but of the state of communion with
the Holy Other known as prayer.
~
Pastor and writer Mark Yaconelli says,
“All prayer rises from the heart of our experience. … human beings are a
creative concoction of emotions, attitudes, memories, fantasies, desires,
physical aches, and thoughtful reflection.
Hurting we cry, “Mercy.”
Awed, we whisper, “Thank you!”
Yearning, we plead, “Show me the way.”
The prayers of the bible – the Psalms, the prophets, the prayers of David
and Sarah and Mary and Paul and so many others – are a messy human
mixture of humble gratitude, trembling awe, heartfelt compassion, desperate
need, violent hatred, erotic desire, and dreamy hope. Just like the people in
scripture, we too are invited to offer God all that lives within our tangled
hearts and minds. Every time we pray, we’re invited to expose the truth of
who we are.” [1] And if we are to pray always, prayer is a process of becoming more deeply vulnerable and trusting of the One who knows our thoughts before we do.
“Prayer makes us more real – and it is through prayer that we learn the
shocking truth: It is our real selves (not our “spiritual selves”) who God
loves and desires most deeply…,” [2] even when in our deepest lament.
Lamentation lies beyond complaint. Complaint is a statement expressing
discontent or unhappiness about a situation, primarily about one’s own
situation. To lament is to call upon God to notice all is not well – but not just
for me, and not before I have expended every possibility within my grasp to
set it right for those I know and love, those I see and hear, those I imagine
and fear, and those yet to come.

Lamentation is not beyond hope, but it lies just at the lip of the abyss –
perhaps even just barely holding on. Lament comes when we are just barely
holding on and have been for much too long.
Lamentation is when every option of return is blocked, and every option
forward is fraught or comes at a cost that is too dear.
Lamentation is steeped in long suffering, and the deepest desire and
yearning and solidarity with the other.
Lamentation is to grieve in the light of hope.
~
We have plenty of complaints.
Gas prices, taxes, crumbling or inadequate infrastructure, the inevitability of
change – these are legitimate complaints. These are things we ought to
address in the prayer-form that looks and feels like work or service. These
are worthy of our attention as we work toward shalom – health and
wholeness, inclusion and justice, and the common good. These arise from
our lack of comfort, or they offend our sense of fairness, or they infringe on
our happiness, or they undermine our sense of security and control.
Sometimes they approach the level of lament, but something else is required
for our prayer to be seated firmly in that territory of soulful lament.
Jesus laments when he can no longer avert his gaze from those who are
distracted from God’s desire for reconciliation and communion, when he can
no longer deny that the children of God, from the lowly shepherd to the
mighty tetrarch have wandered off the path, when they are in exile from
compassion.
Lamentation arises when the soul aches for the well-being of the other.
Today we confess our alienation from God’s children called Muslim, and our
hearts ache for their loss.
~
What is it about Jerusalem that would bring Jesus to lament – yearning to
draw her close? Of course, it will be the place of his death and resurrection.
But it is not the place that he is lamenting. The place that is Jerusalem is not
that much to fuss about. Certainly in his time, it was a golden city, and it
still is called that. It is a place of rich depth and lofty purpose that exudes
the sweet, smoky breath of age and incense. It glows at the edges of the
day with an inner light, and even its shadows seem to be frayed at the
edges.
Jerusalem is also a dry, hard, disheveled place, ruins built upon ruins, even
in Jesus’ time. It’s on a high place, easily defensible, though vulnerable in its
lack of fresh water. It’s on the way to nowhere except itself, and never has
been. There is nothing inherent about the place worth fighting over, though
it has been fought over since the time of David. Yet this is where the glory of
God was said to abide, in the home that was built for the divine by the
people of the covenant. It is the place where the physical artifacts of the
Exodus and the wilderness-encounter with the divine were kept. Those
artifacts – the Ark of the Covenant – containing the broken remnants of the
stone tablets of the commandments – were kept there as a reminder to the
people of their part in the covenant as well as a reminder to God of God’s
promises.
By Jesus’ time, Jerusalem, like a great heart, had drawn in and sent out the
lifeblood of the people for a millennium. Jerusalem was the witness to the
promises that God had made to Abram – innumerable descendants and a
great nation. Luke’s Jesus knew that exile would come again – that the
people of God would be scattered, and that it was unlikely that the heart of
the place Jerusalem would ever beat again with vitality and fertility. Indeed,
the place and its rituals had displaced the heart of the covenant.
Imagine then our exile that causes God’s lament. Imagine how it is that we
can be at home in our Jerusalem, and yet in exile from God’s will, to such an
extent that God laments and yearns for our return. To get a sense of what
that exile that might be, let us consider what might cause – or what does
cause – our own lament.
Would Jesus mourn over our Jerusalem because we have chosen human
purity over divine diversity? Have we turned away from God’s realm to
follow the fears and suspicions of our own hearts? The empire and her
collaborators aggressively seek to silence the prophetic voice of an
alternative social reality. And the people – our Jerusalem – seem satisfied
with the status quo, even if this means acquiescence to convenience,
comfort, or convention. Things may seem livable on the surface, but this
normalcy is bought at the price of soul starvation.
Our hearts are often exiled from the glory of God’s purposes – purposes
which are both approached and realized through service and humility,
through transformation and reconciliation, rather than through command
and control. 
~
Jesus the mother hen laments over her wandering chicks. Though he was aware of his own likely path, he hoped for them, and that hope lay beyond his confrontation with the principalities and powers lying in wait for him. That hope for the chicks was in the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Lamentation is not an end in and of itself – but a passage. Lamentation can do something that is all too rare. Despite seeing our own demise on the horizon, lamentation draws our attention to the fate of the “other” whose doom is not yet sealed. Lamentation may allow us to ask the deeper questions: 

“What is really going on?” 
“Can we, indeed, make a difference?”
“If so, how?"
These questions require a deeper look than pondering what is in it for me.
When we sit in quiet lament, the scandalous grace and mercy of a grieving
God rises above the noise, the frenzy, and the horror of our fearsome deeds,
and we become conscious of hope and redemption.
This is what Lent is all about. It is about a radical faith in new possibilities
that come about through an honest acknowledgement of our sin – our
participation willingly or mindlessly, in systems of control, hierarchy,
accusation, and privilege – and a radical commitment to start over on Jesus’
path of compassion, forgiveness, humility, and inclusion. Lent reminds us
that we are all capable of resurrection and graced with awesome potential
for redemption and new life. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of
the Lord. Amen!



[1] Mark Yaconelli, Wonder, Fear, and Longing: a Book of Prayers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 7.
[2] Ibid.

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