"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christ, Have Mercy

Thus says the LORD:
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refused to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more."
~Jeremiah 31:15

In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
     my hands were stretched out and did not tire;
     I refused to be comforted.
~Psalm 77:2

Last Friday afternoon, as the details of the Newtown tragedy were being learned, it was difficult to know how to pray.  My wife said that her initial impulse was to pray for peace and comfort for the victims' families.  But that didn't feel right; no, she said, they have to weep and mourn now, to be angry and confused, to give full vent to their grief.  To do otherwise would be both unhealthy and simply wrong.  There is a time for grief, as the Preacher of Ecclesiastes well knew.

The Psalmists knew it also.  They did not hide or explain away their human emotions.  In the Psalms we have the full range of human emotion, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Often, in the course of a  Psalm we experience a time of confusion, sorrow, or anger that eventually comes through to a conclusion, and there is confirmation of God's faithfulness, and closure.  Psalm 73 is an excellent example of this.  But sometimes, there is no comfort, there is no closure.  Psalm 88 is one continuous, soul-crushing lament, with scant comfort to be found.  The Psalmist begins,

          O LORD, my God, my Savior,
               by day and night I cry to you.
          Let my prayer enter your presence;
               incline your ear to my lamentation.
          For I am full of trouble;
               my life is at the brink of the grave. 

And those are the most hopeful lines in the Psalm.  It pretty much goes downhill from there (way downhill, actually, all the way to the abyss).  By the end of the lament, the Psalmist seems as forlorn as ever.  He closes,

          Your blazing anger has swept over me;
               your terrors have destroyed me;
          They surround me all day long like a flood;
               they encompass me on every side.
          My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me,
               and darkness is my only companion.

Over the weekend, I was looking through the burial rites in The Book of Common Prayer.  It is my opinion that the burial rite, as laid out here in the anthems, the prayers, and the Scripture readings, is a masterwork of liturgy.  I think one would be hard-pressed to find anything that presents the Christian hope so accurately, beautifully, and powerfully.  That said, as I was reading through the prayers and Scriptures in light of the tragedy in Newtown, I confess that I didn't feel very comforted.  I tried, in some small way, to imagine how I would feel as a father whose young child was suddenly, brutally, and senselessly taken from me.  I don't think I would want to hear words of comfort.  I am fairly certain that I would not want anyone telling me that God will comfort those who mourn, that He is good to those who wait for Him, that I should not lose heart, for the things seen are only temporary.  Truthfully, I can hardly begin to imagine the anguish those parents are going through right now.

I think my wife was right when she determined that what she could do, and what all Christians should do, is to be sad.  Rather than to choose not to think about it, or to pray that the pain will simply go away, we should weep with those who weep.  The Apostle Paul counsels the same.  And is this not the central message of the Incarnation, that God in Christ enters our world, becomes truly human that He may fully embrace the human suffering that is an inescapable aspect of our humanity?  At the grave of Lazarus, Jesus wept with those who were weeping.  Looking to Jesus, our exemplar in all things, let us do the same.

But it is still difficult to know how to pray.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.


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