Lent 2021: A season for Lament
This morning I recognise that this is the first Sunday in Lent, and I am asking the question:
What is the most appropriate way to spend Lent 2021?
In particular it seems to me that God is inviting the church to have a season of lament. Three times recently I have heard the word lament used when I can scarcely recall it being mentioned by the church in the 40 years that I have been a Christian. I have always thought that we need more songs/words that help us to express our sad or difficult feelings in worship. At this point it’s useful to give a definition of lament…… according to the dictionary , lament is “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow”, or according to the Bishop of Leicester in a recent video: lament is “expressing our grief or our sense of loss, or indeed expressing our anger or frustration” to God. I mentioned recently that I attended a Webinar (online seminar) with 370 church leaders. It started by asking the question “How do we lead differently in Lockdown 3.0?” The first suggestion was: Combine praise …with lament. At that point I was quick to put in an online question asking other church leaders for any contemporary songs of lament they knew- I’ll share their replies at the end of my sermon. Already I have referred to a short video I watched recently by the Bishop of Leicester that spoke to me. Bishop Martyn gave his video the title “the gift of a new language” and I was wondering which language this could possibly be. He said that he was learning the language of lament. In it he points out that 40% of the Psalms (60 out of 150) are psalms of lament. Typically the Psalmist rails against God, or others, for much of the psalm, and then returns to affirm trust in God at the end. So how does this link to Lent 2021? A recent message from Launde Abbey captures our situation beautifully: “The life of a monk” writes St.Benedict, “ought to be a continuous Lent.” But these last 12 months have been a continuous Lent for all of us, whether monk or not. : So don’t worry, Rev Mick won’t be inviting us to give up something this Lent- we have all given up so much this past year! So what can we do?, what do we do? when we are in the desert place, the place of wilderness? What do we do when we are without our usual landmarks and sense of navigation. What do we do when we have lost family get togethers, special celebrations such as weddings and baptisms, when we are missing the sporting events, shows, outings, holidays that usually punctuate our year and we feel lost. What do we do when we wake up wondering what day, month or year it is? Surely this is a wilderness or desert experience. What can we do when we are without so much? We turn today to Jesus and the words of the Mark’s gospel chapter 1 for guidance and help. In particular we focus on Jesus in the wilderness. For Jesus, the time in the wilderness is a time of testing and training before he begins His ministry. He has been baptised v10, he has heard again those wonderful words of affirmation from his Father v11 “You are my Son, my cherished one, and my greatest delight is in you” and then the Spirit , v12, leads Jesus into an uninhabited desert region. Our situation is different to that of Jesus, but it has some similarities. We are not in a desert, but we find ourselves in a situation where we have little connection with other human beings- maybe the few that we live with if we’re blessed, but we are still feeling something of being lost in the wilderness. .We may not be in danger of wild animals, but the coronavirus is out there and has been active in our local villages, bringing illness and a few deaths over the last few weeks. .On the positive side we may not have had literal angels ministering to our needs, but surely we can sense the 2021 angels in the form of hospital intensive care workers, and others on the frontline, bringing help where they can. Tantalisingly, Mark does not tell us much about the forty days. We hear that Jesus "endured the ordeals of Satan’s tests” or “was tempted by Satan” but that is all we have to go on. It’s hard to base a structure for our Lent (forty days plus Sundays) on this minimal guidance. However, according to Luke chapter 4 “Jesus ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry” and then we are given a more detailed description of Satan’s tests and how Jesus overcame them using the word of God. (a similar account can be found in Matthew chapter 4:1-11). According to Luke and Matthew, Jesus knew the Old Testament scriptures and quoted from them. Jesus also knew the Psalms and would have spoken them, or sung them, during his forty day ordeal. It is Jesus use of God’s word in the wilderness that stands out to me. So this Lent , in our 2021 wilderness, I will be exploring this theme of lament and I invite you to join me. Whether or not you are doing anything else this Lent, consider joining me in learning something of the language of lament. So how? If you like listening to music or singing songs, a couple of ideas. How about listening to some contemporary Christian songs of lament. Remember that question I asked to 370 church leaders? Here are answers that came back on the chat (by the way I will circulate this sermon text so don’t worry if you miss something!): “When tears fall” from the album “When silence falls”(Tim Hughes), We have sung our songs of victory(how long) -on today’s song sheet, “Weep with me” (Rend Collective), Tumbling sky- Psalms for weary souls (Matt Searles), Hold on (St Aldates) , I will wait for you - Psalm 130 (Shane & Shane). A number of these are based on psalms of lament and can be found on Youtube if you can access it. Or How about writing your own song? I’m going to have a go later in Lent! In addition, or alternatively, how about reading the Psalms of lament. The following are designated as Psalms of communal lament: 44,60,74,79,80,85,86 & 90.Often these psalms have the pattern of expressing grief, loss, anger, frustration, waiting, etc to God and only then do they end with renewed trust in God. We too are having to go through hard times before we too can get renewed hope and trust afresh in God. It’s resurrection, but it must be preceded by crucifixion. A similar pattern in our reading from Mark- Jesus was tested first and then went on to bring good news: ”Turn your lives back to God and put your trust in the hope-filled gospel.”(Mark 1v15 Passion Bible) Let me end with an example of lament from Psalm 13. (New International Version): How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?……… But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.</div>