A couple months ago I preached a sermon on lament psalms. In that sermon I argued that lament, the act of crying out to God about all that is wrong with the world, is a deeply faithful act. It is an expression of our belief that God can change our circumstances and our confusion about why God refuses to do so. If you need any further encouragement that lament is a good and faithful act, you need not look any further than the cross; for on the cross, Jesus, the Son of God himself, laments.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In Mark’s gospel, this is Jesus’ only statement from the cross. It’s a direct quote from Psalm 22, which is perhaps the greatest lament psalm. Here on the cross, Mark does not portray Jesus as some saint in rapture, calmly bearing his punishment; but rather like Job. And not the Job who patiently suffers, but the Job who rails against God, crying out in confusion and grief. Like Job, Jesus has been faithful, more faithful than any human ever was; and yet God does not deliver him from his suffering and persecution—God simply hands him over to them. And so, like Job, Jesus feels completely and utterly abandoned by God.
In that moment of apparent abandonment, Jesus joins with everyone who has ever uttered a lament and comes into complete solidarity with our own suffering. In this darkest of moments, Jesus comes to know what it means not only to suffer, but to feel completely abandoned.
Do you ever have moments where you feel that God has abandoned you? Where you cry out to God for deliverance and receive none? Have you ever had moments where the worst possible thing has happened even though you prayed desperately that it wouldn’t? If it hasn’t happened to you, then take a look at the world around you and you will see that it is happening to other people every day. The pandemic has been one such moment for millions of people. The shootings in Boulder and Atlanta have been one such moment for the families of all those people murdered. The floods, freezes, and fires that consume lives and property are another such moment for so many. Every day people suffer from abuse, addiction, violence, discrimination, hunger, thirst, abandonment, homelessness, illness, disability, incarceration, loneliness, shame, pain, and loss. And so many who experience such suffering feel as though God is nowhere to be found.
And Jesus knows exactly what that feels like. For as he hung on the cross, he joined with all humanity in that greatest of laments—the lament of God’s apparent absence. There is little comfort to offer those who feel abandoned by God. But in those moments where it feels as though God has left, we can at the very least lean on the knowledge that Jesus knows exactly how that feels.
The act of lamenting is a strange and contradictory thing. When Jesus cries out in the lament of Psalm 22, he cries out thinking that God has abandoned him, and yet he cries out to God. If God has abandoned Jesus, why would Jesus continue trying to address God? It would be like trying to talk to someone on the phone after they’ve already hung up. Do you see the contradiction there?
This is one of the great mysteries of faith and a beautiful part of our relationship with God, that we could be so angry at God and yet continue to have a relationship with God anyway. In those moments when we feel as though God has abandoned us, we have two options: walk away from God entirely or keep talking, even if that talk is all anger and grief. Can you see why the second option is the faithful option? To speak angrily to God is still to speak to God. Someone once said that lament is like gripping tightly to God with one hand and shaking your fist at God with the other. This is exactly what Jesus does from the cross.
Another mysterious thing about lament is that it often seems to lead to other things, namely: hope. If lament is laying before God everything you think is wrong with your life and the world, how could that possibly lead to hope? Truthfully, I don’t know exactly how, but it does. We read all of Psalm 22 earlier. Did you notice how it ends? Verses 22-31 are full of praise, a far cry from the way the psalm starts.
This is one of the powerful things about lament. Something about the act of lamenting, about naming your grief and suffering before God, about venting your anger at God, clears the path for praise. It’s as if lament gets everything off your chest. When we lament, it is as though we pin all of our sorrows to the cross. I think this is why all but two lament psalms end with praise and hope. The people who have lamented have worked through their sorrow and moved on to a new feeling. Lament is not just idle complaining. It is a necessary step if we are ever going to get to hope.
Maybe, somewhere deep down, Jesus knew this. In his desperation, Jesus cries out to his God who seems so very far away, trusting that God is the only one who can save him. His words are a lament, but they are the seed of hope. God may not step in and intervene on Good Friday, but we know that God is going to step in soon. Because Good Friday is not the end of the story. Lament is not the end of the story. These are absolutely necessary parts of the story. But they are not the end.
Jesus’ cry from the cross shows us that lament is a necessary part of faith. So, in a few moments, during our hymn at the cross, I’m going to invite you to write down a lament of your own on the slip of paper in your worship packet. Once you’ve recorded your lament, I invite you to come forward and pin your lament to the cross. Your lament can be anything for which you are grieving. It could be a deeply personal issue or a public one. Any place you feel as though God is absent from your life or the world, that’s where your lament begins. This is your chance to cry out with Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
By the cross, Jesus comes to know what it means to be truly human because by the cross, Jesus suffers. By the cross, Jesus comes to understand lament on the deepest level, because by the cross, Jesus feels abandoned by God. We have a God who understands what it means to lament. We have a God who understands what it means to feel alone. So on this Good Friday, we come forward, boldly offering out laments to God, trusting that God hears our cries and God will intervene. Maybe not today. But soon.