As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.
Scripture: 2 Samuel 1 – 3
Key verses: (1:17-19) David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. 18 (He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said:
19 Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
Reflection: Last March esteemed New Testament scholar N. T. Wright published an article in Newsweek “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus.” His essay encouraged all to recover the lost Biblical tradition of lament instead of offering easy answers that neglected the palpable pain and societal grief at hand. In a thoughtful way, Wright encourages lament that is both personal and communal. As individuals who lament, “We become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell.” As communities who lament, we can name the “frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why.”
Since reading his article, I’ve been paying attention to lamentation in the public sphere. Maybe you’ve heard country singer Luke Combs lament through the lyrics of Six Feet Apart or you’ve heard Amanda Gorman’s poetic lament at the Super Bowl. Lights at the Lincoln Memorial, the Field of Flags on the National Mall, construction paper hearts taped onto doors, and teddy bears peeking out windows are all visual prayers of lament.
Here in 2 Samuel 1:17-19, David laments the deaths of Saul and Jonathan and instructs the people of Judah to learn and take to heart this lament. Though David had a complicated relationship with Saul, and in moments considered him an enemy, the grief of his heart is real and realized through the ritual of words of mourning and reflection directed toward God.
Despite the public examples from country music to the National Mall, some (like N.T. Wright) might argue lament is a lost art that needs reclaimed. This is a place where the church can lead by demonstrating the necessity and healing power of public lament. Like David, we can ask that lament be taught to our children and our communities.
Four movements shape the heart of a lament: an introductory cry to God, a detailed complaint, a confession of trust, and a renewed claim that God will deliver us. Before logging on to Zoom for work or to begin your child’s day at school, if you are feeling frazzled or frayed, you might start your day with those four phrases: cry out, complain, confess, claim.
David directed his grief toward God and began with a very clear complaint, “How the mighty have fallen.” May our hearts share that prayer today: for mighty veterans suffering from PTSD or Moral Injury, for health care workers exhausted and grieved, for teachers asked to resource increasing demands, for communities discouraged by injustice and entrenched racism.
Let us grieve. Let us complain. Let us cry out to God. Let us pray along with David, sing along with Luke, light a candle for the nation to see.
The beauty of lament is the clarity of the underlying assumption: God hears our cries.
Prayer: We can pray along with the Psalmist and continue the prayer begun in Psalm 5:
Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you…
(Name requests for your life, the life of the church, the life of the Charlotte community, and larger concerns of nation and world.)
and wait expectantly.
Author: Lisa Nichols Hickman
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].