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Preacher: Canon Missioner Maggie McLean
Date: 30/10/22 4pm Evening Prayer
Title: Lament and Hope
In our readings today two ideas are held together. Against a background of suffering and loss we hear promises of hope – of resurrection.
The passage from the Book of Lamentations is the bit most people go to as a beacon of hope in the midst of suffering. The rest of this short book of the Jewish Scriptures seems pretty depressing:
‘The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate
her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter’
‘My eyes are spent with weeping;
my stomach churns’.
In striking the balance between grief and hope, Christians are sometimes accused of skating over the need for lamentation. To rush, as it were, from Maundy Thursday to Easter Day. It seems to me that in our Old Testament we find plenty of examples where the full force of despair and tragedy is given voice. The Psalms are one example where we find emotional honesty about the suffering of God’s people, while at the same time never wholly abandoning hope.
It would seem that we have no shortage of things to lament today. We had hardly emerged from COVID, when war erupted in Ukraine. Now there is the cost of living crisis and the far reaching experiences of climate change, with the inevitable consequences for rising temperatures; rising sea levels; and the prospect of the world’s poorest communities being hit hardest.
If we aren’t lamenting it means that we are avoiding this reality. In a way parodied by the Monty Python team many years ago, the non-lamenting person is like the Black Knight who fights King Arthur. The Knight begins to lose, and when a limb is cut off he replies: ‘Tis but a scratch’ and carries on. Eventually all his limbs are lost. To any viewer, what we see is the Black Knights constant denial of reality.
We could ask, in our second reading, why on earth Jesus is weeping. Surely he knows what he’s going to do – and that Lazarus will be alive again with his sisters? Why is there any need for this demonstration of feeling?
It seems to me that the response of Jesus is very much about the moment. He sees in his encounter with Mary, and with all those who are grieving the loss of Lazarus, the acute pain of human parting. Emotionally Jesus is ‘with the people’. He inhabits their feeling and knows, whatever may happen to Lazarus, that bereavement is part of the cost of what it means to be human.
As the Gospel tells us, Jesus was ‘disturbed in spirit and deeply moved’. He isn’t only lamenting to death of his friend but the sorrow which this has brought to so many people.
Recognising the pain of the world isn’t a luxury or indulgence. Unless we see, name and experience what is happening, we risk becoming the Black Knight – always in denial and, because of that, neither learning nor changing.
But in order to understand what we must lament, we need to know what’s happening in God’s world – the world entrusted to our care. That’s partly why I think it’s so important that Anglican churches around the world are linked and connected. When it comes to anything, whether the climate or the economy, we are all in it together. Actions in one place have consequences in another. Perhaps the starkest evidence of that, and one of the most disturbing, is the recent discovery of micro-plastics in breast milk. How we live never was, and certainly isn’t now, a matter for us alone.
We are accountable to one another; we are called to lament together, to pray together, to act together and, hopefully, to rejoice together.
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