Last week I wrote about lament, that is, passionately expressing grief to God. Lament has a long history in the Jewish and Christian traditions, and as I noted, many of the prayers recorded in the Book of Psalms express individual or communal grief, distress, or anguish. As we enter into Holy Week, this most holy time of the church year, I want to point out that those of us who may choose to call out to God in our pain are in good company, as Jesus did this during the final days of his life on earth.
In Mark’s Gospel, we read about Jesus’ agony in the garden. After the Last Supper and before being arrested, Jesus goes to a place called Gethsemane with his disciples. We are told that he “began to be troubled and distressed,” and that he told his followers, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.”
Have you or someone you know experienced a time when your soul felt “sorrowful even to death”? What did you do in order to deal with your own sorrow or the sorrow of someone close to you?
Jesus’ response to his sorrow is telling for our own sorrow. First, Jesus expresses this sorrow to those who are closest to him. Second, Jesus distances himself a little from the group in order to pray to God: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” While Jews at Jesus’ time would more often have used the more formal address of “Yahweh” when praying to God, Jesus addresses God with the personal term “Abba.” It is clear that Jesus feels comfortable praying out loud to God and approaches God as one would approach a father, mother, or other close member of the family. Jesus is able to be fully himself with God and to show his vulnerability. Jesus demonstrates his complete humanity here, asking that the cup of suffering be removed from him. He senses that a bad end is coming and wishes that this would not have to be so. And third, even though he asks for this cup to be taken away, Jesus also simultaneously trusts in God’s will and God’s vision for the world.
When you have felt sorrow, with whom have you been able to talk about this experience? With your friends? With your family? With God?
How do you address God? What does this say about your relationship with God?
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus offers another lament, a final expression of grief uttered on the cross before breathing his last breath. We are told that Jesus “cries out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?'” What Jesus says is an Aramaic rendering of Psalm 22:2. That is, Jesus is drawing on the language of his Jewish ancestors to express his anguish. Like every human being, Jesus dies. In his humanity, in this moment of death and ultimate vulnerability, Jesus feels abandoned by God. What I find important, especially for me this holy Week as I lament over my parents’ separation, is that Jesus does not hesitate to cry this lament to God. Even though he feels alone and forsaken, he does not give up on his relationship to God.
When in your life have you felt alone or abandoned? Did you feel as if God was also separate from you in this time?
The good news for all of us this Holy Week is that God does respond to Jesus’ cry from the cross. The story does not end with Jesus dying alone on the cross but with the empty tomb, with Jesus’ resurrection. Death is not the end but is rather “a journey into life with God.”
As I wrote last week, there is a time for lament. I believe it is important not to try to move ourselves from lament too quickly, before we have given time to our grief. But perhaps as we celebrate Easter this week, those of us who are lamenting can dare to see our anguish through the lens of the resurrection, if only for a moment. Maybe we can bear to believe that God will work for good out of what seems to be the shambles of our situation.
What does it mean to you that Jesus expressed lament during his life on earth?
What does it mean for your own sorrow that God did not abandon Jesus on the cross but instead raised him to new life?