What is lament? From the dictionary, a lament is “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow,” and to lament is “to mourn.” Laments are directed toward someone who has the capacity to change the circumstances, or correct the injustice.
Biblical laments are prayers. They can be spoken, sung, painted, or communicated in some other way to God. Lament is a response to a momentous occasion of grief over which we have no control.
This is an important point. If the injustice or suffering that we lament is something over which we have control, we should do something. If we do nothing, the faithful response is to confess and repent, not lament.
Lament is a response to the suffering, sorrows and injustices of our not-yet-redeemed world. In lament, there is hope.
Before we read the scripture for this week’s lesson, consider a few things for yourself. Think of a time when you felt that God was far away. How did you feel? Think of a time when you felt that God was close. How did you feel? How did you notice God’s presence?
Read today’s scripture: Psalm 22:1-19 and Matthew 27:45-56. Click on each scripture to open it up in a new window, where you can read it online.
We know, intellectually, that God is always there. That’s what we read over and over in different ways in the Bible. Sometimes that is not enough. We just don’t feel God’s presence. The same occurs in the Bible. At the beginning and end of the Bible, in Genesis and in Revelation, God’s presence is crystal clear. There is absolutely no doubt. In the middle, people express their feelings of God’s absence or God turning away from them.
This feeling of absence is at the heart of lament.
What can we learn from lament? We can learn just how empty our life without God can be. Older descriptions of hell might be an eternal lake of fire. Now, you might hear hell described as the absence of God. I have heard our passage from Matthew today explained in this way. When Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” it is because He no longer feels the presence of the Father.
At the resurrection, Jesus was returned to God’s presence. The separation ended. This is our hope. This also shows us that the presence of God is the only way to fully silence our lament.
"Lamentation of Christ." (1499) by Michelangelo Buonarroti. Saint Paul's Cathedral. Vatican.
Practice: Writing A Lament
In this lesson, we will use common elements of lament as a beginning mode, and use that to write a lament. At the beginning of the lesson, you thought of a time when God felt far away. If you have not experienced this, you might consider a person whom the world might think has been abandoned by God. You may also want to re-read our passage from Psalms (Psalm 22:1-19) if you’re feeling poetic.
As you feel comfortable, you can share your lament, or parts of your lament, in the comments below our lesson. I have written one, and shared it there.
You are near to us always.
When we lament and when we praise, we feel you near.
May we live our lives in full awareness
That life is lived in your presence. Amen.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.