Page 11 - PC_Fall2020
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Lament and Change
FALL 2020
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As conversations are wont to do these days, the topic among a small group of ministers I was meeting with turned to COVID-19. The specific question was, “What changes to our everyday ministries do you lament?”
One of my colleagues talked about not being able to visit a dying parish- ioner. The family appreciated his regu- lar phone calls, but the minister really lamented that they could not be there at this saint’s death bed. Prayer over the phone just didn’t compare with holding someone’s hand as you com- mend them to God’s eternal care. An- other minister missed having congre- gational worship, lamenting that while the music online was good, it could never replace a group of people sing- ing their hearts out to Jesus.
One of the goals the facilitator had in mind when asking the question was to allow ministers to lament, to publicly acknowledge their grief at something that was lost, and in doing so to help the ministers mourn an im- por tant par t of who they are and what they do. In this case, the public health practices and restrictions put in place in response to COVID-19 disrupted normal, good ways of doing minis- try. Lamenting the loss of something good—pastoral care at a death bed, or corporate worship—was cathar tic.
But it was more than that. As the conversation developed, a different di- mension of lament appeared. Another colleague astutely observed that, “If you want to do a new thing, lament has got to be a part of it.” There has been a lot of talk about how COVID-19 could bring about new forms of min- istry. By necessity many congrega- tions have moved worship online. Now, months into this new regime of social distancing and restrictions on gathering, the initial shine has worn for some. This isn’t to say that online worship is not good. It is to say that in moving into a moment of lament, we
can see some of the ways that face- to-face worship was better than online worship. Our lament points to a good thing lost, forcing us to ask what was good about it and why we grieve its loss.
This is true not only of congre- gational life. A recent 25th wedding anniversary par ty couldn’t include the parents of the groom. The father was immune compromised, and so couldn’t risk infection by getting to- gether even with a modest number of people. Both the parents and the couple lament the times we live in, saddened that circumstances be- yond control force families apar t at times when they should rightfully be together. Realizing how much they relied on family gatherings for their relationship has challenged them to reach out more often, to do things in smaller groups, to find new ways of connecting.
When we acknowledge the good that has been lost, when we lament, we can move forward into something new because we know what matters most. It sounds good, except this is not really how the Biblical record presents lament. Often, it seems, the people of God mistake circumstances of their own making for circumstanc- es beyond their control. Take Psalm 44 for example. The first part of the Psalm, vv. 1–8, is all about how God has acted to save God’s people in the past. These are the good times that they are about to lament because in the second part they lament that God seems to have forgotten them. They plead that God will remember them and come and save them. The lament in this case seems justified because horrible things have come upon them, taking away the good things that they had before.
What we know about God’s people though is that they almost never can acknowledge that they have acted against God. In fact, they are almost always delusional. In this Psalm, they say:
All this has come upon us,
yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way,
yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals,
and covered us with deep darkness. (Psalm 44:17–19)
The reality that we know from other parts of the Bible, like the prophets, is that the people almost always forget God and break his covenant in deeply offensive ways. They neither worship God properly nor treat each other with justice. Their protests sound like a child who has been caught steal- ing cookies saying, “It isn’t my fault! I didn’t like the lunch that you made me!” They can’t see that they are at fault but instead blame their parent.
It would be theologically danger- ous to suggest that COVID-19 is a form of divine punishment. We can le- gitimately lament the losses we have suffered because of the pandemic. But there are other places of lament and potential renewal in our society at the moment. I think of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. In Canada, Indigenous Peoples have drawn attention to the deplorable con- ditions they live in. As Christians, we should earnestly want to change the situation, create new possibilities for justice. In these cases, we must listen to others lament dreams deferred and promises broken. For change to come we must pierce through our own self- serving forms of “lament,” which are really unjustified complaining, and realize that we have grieved God by breaking covenant.
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