Has there been such a time as this, where the whole world is halted by an invisible force? School, businesses, sports events, entertainment and malls have all come to a close. There are so many fears, concerns and uncertainties. And yet the world has never been closer; globalization leads us into such a strange intimate space with the world. The global narrative even though thousands of miles away impacts us right here in Toronto. We are seeing the situations unfold all around us through the plethora of media; in some ways here in Canada we are also seeing countries that have gone before us and how they have handled the spread of the COVID-19 virus. And I’ve often wondered, how do we sit through this liminal space? This space where we are at the already but not yet stage; longing to experience the completion but knowing that it requires a time of endurance and perseverance.
The Lenten season is often a space where the church pauses and reflects and remembers Jesus’ journey towards the cross. As we arrive at Holy Week we start off with the Messianic announcement of Jesus on what our liturgical calendar calls Palm Sunday, and this leads us down the road to the cross. Lately, I can’t help but sit with the disciples as they witness everything. From the Last Supper, having their feet washed, the garden of Gethsemane where they sat, falling asleep, to the raiders coming in to arrest Jesus. As they watched their master being captured, beaten and ultimately hung on a cross. What would those emotions and feelings be? The torturous moments of waiting. Can you imagine Peter, who watched on the outside as they took the Lord into the inner summit where He is questioned, harassed and beaten by Pontius Pilate?
Waiting is such a strange practice. And perhaps sometimes waiting requires the practices of lament; to sit in the midst of crisis and chaos grieving and seeking God. It is often an uncomfortable space when we lament because it requires a certain acceptance that things are beyond our control and some things have definitely gone awry. Song Chan Rah’s book, Prophetic Lament describes how we have lost the practice of lament in our churches today. We rush too quickly to the celebration but not nearly enough time is spent sitting with the grief and submission of control in the times of lament.
We are in an unprecedented time dear church, I wonder if this Lenten season, we are once again invited to sit in the lamentation for our neighbourhoods, our cities, our country and our world. As this invisible catastrophe not only brought to halt the global economy but it brought with it death and fear. Our lament leads us to cry out to God, sharing in the pain but also interceding with the knowledge that in the end there is an empty tomb. This is the Lenten hope as we walk through the cross narrative.
This is a beautiful quote found in Prophetic Lament,
Theologian Randy Woodley identified this deeper engagement as the Hebrew word shalom, which is often translated simplistically as ‘peace.’ Woodley asserts that shalom “is active and engaged, going far beyond the mere absence of conflict. A fuller understanding of shalom is the key to the door that can lead us to a whole new way of living in the world.” Shalom combats the dualism rampant in western culture and is instead rooted in a more Hebraic “passion for equilibrium, a sense of system in which all the parts cohere.” Shalom, therefore does not eschew or diminish the role of the other or the reality of a suffering world. Instead, it embraces the suffering other as an instrumental aspect of well-being. Shalom requires lament.
Shalom is sitting in the middle. We seek and practice shalom and lament; the tension of hope and grief and of joy and sadness. Church, can we learn to sit in this shalom in this Lenten season? Can we learn to trust God who is not only the giver of shalom but also one who laments with us? Perhaps this is the good news that we have to offer today.
As I conclude today, I leave this passage from Jesus, may we learn to seek Shalom in the midst of lament as we sit in this strange middle in the Lenten season,
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
“Come now; let us leave.”