As we begin our time of reflection upon the Gospel, this morning, I am mindful of the fact that our Lenten sermon series is a little disjointed. We took a week off, last week, to reflect on how we can be the people of God in the midst of these difficult times. At the same time, I recognize that, because of the nature of how we are worshiping today, that many of you are coming into a sermon series that is a few weeks old. With that in mind, I want to take a moment and get everyone caught up on where we are.
Our series, called One Week, is focused on the events of Holy Week. It is the week where we commemorate the Jesus’ activities in Jerusalem that lead up to his betrayal, death, and resurrection. What we describe as Holy Week took place during the Jewish festival of the Passover, which remembers God’s redemption of Israel from Egyptian slavery. In this series, we have wanted to tell the stories of the events during that fateful Passover that do not receive the attention of sermons, Bible studies, and conversations.
There have been some key moments in the series. We began three weeks ago, which seems like a year ago in a different time and place, by looking at how Jesus expressed holy frustration in the Temple for it becoming consumed with things not of God. From there, we looked at how Jesus cursed the fig tree in a call for those who would follow him to seek to live out our faith in Christ. Last week, had we not focused on the realities of our current world, we would have seen how Jesus called out the hypocrisy of the religious elites for saying one thing and doing another. Tensions are picking up, especially now as Jesus expresses his grief and lament at what he sees in Jerusalem and the people of faith.
We pick up the story of Jesus’ interactions during that Passover after he has criticized the hypocrisy of the leadership. He was talking to the crowds and disciples as he did so. What comes next is one of several points during Holy Week where Jesus expresses his tears and grief for Jerusalem. Luke describes a moment of tears as Jesus traveled down from the Mount of Olives and into the city. The spot where he wept for the city is preserved, today, by a church called Dominus Flevit.
It is likely, though, that this particular scene took place while Jesus taught in the Temple. Teachers would speak at the teaching steps, while sitting down, to reflect upon the Scriptures and what it means to follow God. Luke is the only other writer who expresses Jesus’ lament. He does so prior to Jesus’ arriving into Jerusalem, perhaps as a way to show what is to come. Why the difference? We are reminded, again, that the gospel writers are not intent on telling a story defined by chronology, but, instead, on their understanding and interpretation of the mission of God.
In our scene, Jesus does something that is very natural in Scripture. That is to offer his lament to God for what is being experienced. A lament is a deep and soulful expression of grief and sadness over the realities of life. It is to give to God, and one another, our pain, sorrow, and hurt for what we see in the world, what we experience, and how it affects us. A lament is a deep and emotional prayer that gives space to our pain and allows it to be expressed.
The Psalms are a great place to see lament as an element of prayer. Psalm 13, for instance, begins with pleading to God about how long must the Psalmist wait upon the grace and forgiveness of the Lord. Much of the Psalms were written to express the writer’s grief to God. As well, Lamentations, written by Jeremiah, express his grief over what was taking place in Jerusalem with its destruction. Laments are powerful, holy, and often necessary in order to see the work and grace of God.
What we see Jesus doing here, then, is to express his grief at what he saw in Jerusalem. He has come knowing what was to come, his death and resurrection, and, as well, that the religious elites and leadership would be involved in leading the charge to dismiss him. He has seen their witness of faith that was based more on protecting the self and its own power structure than of being deeper in love with God. He has seen their reluctance to hear the word of God from prophets. He has seen the city’s dependence upon the way things have been instead of what could be. He has seen a community unwilling to accept the movement of God.
And it grieves him. He expresses his lament to state how Jerusalem, and the Temple, had become a shell of its greater purpose to be a space of worship and reflection upon the love of God. It was desolate, Jesus says, and void of its connection to God. Notice the word usage: Jesus says it is now their house. The Temple, this place of worship and connection, was no longer a place for God. It was their house, the house of the leadership, and defined by their rules, their expectations, and their definition of who was accepted or not. Jesus laments, here, about what he sees.
If we take a moment to see what is going on, perhaps it makes us uncomfortable in our own faith life. Not just for its challenging message that leads us to reflect upon who we are and where we are as a people and community. Perhaps it makes us uncomfortable, because Jesus expresses his true feelings and laments what he sees as being counter to the nature of God. It makes us uncomfortable, perhaps, because we’ve been taught not to express our grief, pain, and hurt to God or one another. We’ve been taught to bury our emotions and grief, because we believe God cannot handle it and that others would not be receptive. We’ve been taught not to express where we are hurt, because we believe it is better to make everyone happy and get along than to truly deal with what is going on. We think it is just venting, ranting, and unproductive.
That’s not what we see in Scripture nor of Jesus. Lamenting is a powerful act of prayer where, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given space to express our deep hurt and allow God to move into those places. By refusing to express our laments, we are actually turning away from an important part of discipleship and showing, in a way, our lack of faith. It is a lack of faith that believes God and the community of faith cannot handle our hurt or receive our grief.
It is holy and necessary, at times, to express our lament to God and one another. Where do you need to express your lament? Perhaps, as communities of faith, we need to give more space for people to express that things aren’t what they often expect in the world, even, in the life of faith. That is how I feel at times. There are days when I feel a restlessness in my soul, because of the disconnect between the church Jesus calls us to be and the churches we often see in North America. A church Jesus calls us to be that is outward focus, and churches in North America that are, often, inwardly oriented. This grieves my soul.
We need to express these places, because it is in the articulation of our lament that room is made in our soul for God to remind us of hope. There is not a lot of room for hope to live if we are consumed by anger, unexpressed pain, or grief. It is, often, when we let go of these things, give them their proper airing with our words and in conversation with one another, where we see God remind us of the Lord’s love and mission.
That is what happens in Jesus’ lament. He doesn’t leave the people with just a message of his pain at what he saw. Jesus also expresses his greatest desire within the lament. What Jesus wanted to do, and continues to desire, is to welcome all people into his care and mission. It is a reminder that even as the people failed to live up to their purpose, God never stopped loving them. God never stops loving his people just because they have made a few mistakes. God continues to reach out, encourage, equip, and desire that the people would seek the Lord’s embrace and be led by the greater purpose to love God, grow in faith, and serve the Lord.
Jesus desires to welcome the very people who would disown him into his fellowship and remind them of their purpose to make disciples and share love. That is a powerful witness for us today, because, much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, we don’t always get it right. We don’t always get it right in our personal lives nor in the church. We will seek to follow God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but often get consumed within ourselves and own desires. We will miss out on where God is leading us to share love with the stranger, the vulnerable, and hopeless. Yet, God still desires us and reaches out to us. That never stops even when we fall short of the glory of God. Jesus’ greater desire is for us to come into that fellowship and to be sent out, by his love, to do the work of Christ.
That is the response of life that is placed at our feet to decide upon. Jesus desires you, me, our church, our global community to find our place in his arms, in his love, and his care. Jesus desires for us to be a part of not an inwardly-focused mission, but a mission that reaches across barriers to share hope with all people, no matter who they are, where they live, or, even, how we transmit the message of hope.
Jesus’ lament gives us space to reflect upon this hope. Our laments to God give space for the Lord to remind us of where God is leading us as a people and community.
What do you need to lament today? Where in your life do you need to remember the greater purpose to love God, grow in faith, and serve the Lord through the welcoming embrace of the Lord?
May we hear God reminding us, through our grief-filled tears, of our greater purpose, even now.