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Grief? Guilt? Lament.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 80

©2021 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones


The scripture for today’s is a Psalm of Lamentation,
which has this five-fold shape of lamentation woven into it,
of bringing God into conversation with trauma, loss, anguish,
naming that trauma, recalling God’s prior works of mercy
and salvation, and the choice to trust in God for
a more hopeful future.

It comes to us from just about 3000 years ago,
when the Northern kingdom of Israel had just been conquered
by the Assyrian Empire.
Sitting in the nightmare of shattered lives,
they bring God into conversation with their anguish.
Anguish is not objective, but it’s real!
As they lament, they name the pain,
they wonder why God has left them to drink their tears,
wonder if it was something they’d done, or not done.
They then go on, perhaps with a bit of bite to their tone,
to remind God that the land which has just been taken from them
was land God had taken from others to give them,
back when God and Moses led them out of Egypt,
and Joshua fought their way into the land of Promise.

It’s a hard psalm to read;
we don’t know where we are in it.
We can’t help but see the continuing torture
of the land on the eastern Mediterranean seaboard,
as Palestinians, and Israelis both have deep seated
convictions about that land as sacred, as theirs.
We can’t help but wonder how this psalm
can speak with and for Canada’s indigenous peoples
who have endured European conquest and appropriation
of land and livelihoods on the land that they held – hold – sacred?
What is it like for us to be those “enemies” about whom this psalm laments?
And then again, for many of us, our ancestors came to these shores,
having been pushed off their farms in Ireland, Scotland,
fleeing religious or ethnic persecution in Russia, Poland, Ukraine,
China, Korea.

Are we the Assyrians, or the lamenters?
Are we both?
Can we listen as we read and sing
to hear other voices joining in along with ours?
Can we sing it give it the voice of lamentation
for those who have been silenced?
Voices in bodies with red, and brown, and black, yellow, and olive skin?
Can we sing it with all who are at the mercy of
chaos, injustice, systems that oppress some
and perpetuate privilege for others?
Sing it aloud to God, so that God can save,
not just some, but all.
so that God can turn us once more
towards hope, founded in God’s Dream,
and to being faithful agents of mercy,
reconciliation, reparation, recreation.

Readings from Scripture: Psalm 80
Hear us, Great God, Shepherd of Israel!
You, the One who leads Joseph like a flock.
You, the One who sits enthroned upon winged heavenly beings.
Show yourself! As you did to Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh!
Stir up your strength and come to save us!

Restore us, Holy One!
Let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Holy One, God of cosmic power,
how long will you keep your anger against us?
how long will you ignore our prayers?
You’ve fed us with the bread of tears,
we’ve drunk tears three times over!
We’re the laughing stock of our enemies,
we’re treated with scorn.

Restore us, Holy One!
Let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Remember, God of our ancestors,
you it was who brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it,
so that it took deep roots and filled the land.
The mountains were covered by its shade;
the mighty cedars were covered by its branches.
Its branches reached the sea, its shoots
to the Euphrates.
So why then has this happened?
Why have you torn down the walls,
so that anyone can come by and pluck its fruit?
Even the boar from the forest tears it up,
and it lies infested, eaten by worms.
Turn again, O Holy One,
Mighty One,Look! See!

Attend to your vine; the stock that your right hand planted!
the child whom you secured as your very own.
If you turn to us, we will never turn away from you.
Revive, us, give us life again, so that we can live to call on your
holy name.
Restore us, Holy One!
Let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Grief? Guilt? Lament.
As I said at the beginning,
there’s much about our first world,
post-Victorian influenced culture
that is so stiff in the upper lip that we have
lost touch with the soul-saving,
world-saving practice of lament.
We’re uncomfortable with
visceral expressions of sadness, grief (even joy!).
Somewhere along the way we’ve decided
that grief is supposed to be a temporary,
and containable experience, best kept private,
much to our compounded sickness of soul.
Biblical lamentation gives the lie to that fallacy;
grief needs to be expressed in all its raw illogicality,
to God, and in community.
In so doing we can find ourselves in a grand narrative
where grief is met by a God who “bends down low to hear
our cry” and to walk with us the grief grind back to
community where our grief can be shared, and
replenished with hope.

We have become we’re equally anemic in our capacity
to reckon with private or political guilt.
As one of our number has said,
“guilt is overrated.”
I get that.
Wallowing in guilt is static and depressing,
but denying it has gotten into this 500 year long mess
of lying to ourselves that our history as “Settlers”
(let’s call it by its proper name, invasion and occupation)
is somehow benign.
So if we don’t wallow, nor deny, what do we do?
Martha came up with this brilliant phrase on Wednesday
that truly helped; she said
“guilt is the thing that kicks me into the story.”
And once we’re in it, once we realize,
we feel all the feels;
denial, shame, anger, despair.
This is where, again Biblical lamentation comes in
We bring God into the conversation,
name the pain of others that I or my ancestors
or those who share my privilege have caused or exacerbated,
and call upon GOD to help us figure a way out.
We remind ourselves, using the long arc of God’s history
with us, personally, and as a species, that God’s
got this.
Everything we know about God’s utter fidelity
to God’s Dream of abundant, flourishing life for all,
means that God will do whatever it takes
for us to step into the story not only of our guilt or grief,
but of God’s mercy.
Which means accepting God’s gifting and equipping us
to make apology, make amends,
to be part of the healing, and reconciliation
that mends brokenness,
if not in our generation in those to come.

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