This week, we are considering two very difficult topics:
lamenting death and lamenting life.
First, think about someone suffering because of the death of a loved one. How can we help them remember the promise of resurrection without negating what they are currently feeling? Take a minute to think about this. It is okay if you don’t have an answer yet. Keep this question in the back of your head while we work through this lesson.
Now read John 11:28-37. Just click on the scripture, and it will open up in a new window for you to read.
This is probably a familiar story: Lazarus has died, and his sisters, Mary and Martha, are mourning his death. We absolutely expect that Lazarus’s sisters would be mourning! In this scripture, we also see something else that is expected. Mary says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Is Mary’s response a lament? There is absolute faith that Jesus could have healed Lazarus. But this is past tense. Mary does not ask for what she really wants, her brother to be back with her. There seems to be an acceptance of the finality of death. She thinks there is nothing else Jesus can do. If you are familiar with this story, you know that there is something that Jesus can do. He resurrects Lazarus.
The Raising of Lazarus. Rembrandt (c. 1630-1632).
Next, I’m going to ask you to think of something that might seem more difficult to you. Have you or someone you know ever felt like life was a burden rather than a gift? What led to that feeling? What could you say or do for someone in that position? Again, you may not yet have an answer for this question either. That is fine.
Now, read Job 3:1-4, 9-19, 24-26, or if you prefer, Job 3:1-26. Again, just click on the scripture, and it will open up in a new window for you to read.
The story of Job is probably also familiar to you. Job was a wealthy, faithful man. He loses everything: his flocks, his children, his health. In chapter 3, Job is sitting in ashes, covered in sores, as he begins his speech. His friends sit with him.
Is Job’s response a lament? He spells out exactly what is wrong, and what he wants. His situation is unacceptable, and he will wait until God answers. In the circumstances given, we might think of his willingness to wait as a statement of faith. Eventually, Job will get his response.
Initially, these two scripture passages seem to be opposites. The reading from John depicts a woman mourning after her brother’s death. The reading from Job instead shows someone suffering life as a burden. Sometimes, we may experience something like Mary or Job did. We might consider these times a, “dark night of the soul,” as described by Christian mystics like Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross. We might feel separated from God, like life is chaotic and random.
These are times we might lament. An example of this comes from the writer/composer Thomas A. Dorsey. His wife, Nettie, was expecting their first child. He had travelled from his home in Chicago to St. Louis as the featured soloist at a revival meeting. In his words:
. . . In the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED. . . .
But sometimes, we are Mary’s or Job’s friends, who are with them in their time of trouble.
This brings us back to the questions posed before each of the scripture readings: How can we help a friend remember the promise of resurrection without negating what they are currently feeling? What could you say or do for a loved one who feels like life is a burden instead of a gift?
In some cases, your presence is enough. Job's friends sit with him in the ashes. Mary and Martha's friends are with them at their home.
Instead of writing a lament today, I would like you to consider those questions. Maybe you have been the person whose friend offered you support. Please, share your thoughts so we can all get some better ideas of how to help others.
God of life,
You have done for us what we could not do for ourselves.
You have brought freedom to us when we were captive to death.
May we choose to live, forgiven and freed by you through Jesus Christ.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.