O Jerusalem, JerusalemFr. Barnabas Powell
Do you know what a “Lament” is? It is defined as “a passionate expression of grief, often in music, poetry, or song form. The grief is most often born of regret, or mourning.”
Laments are really not very stylish in today’s modern world. We too often expend great amounts of energy and effort to hide from unpleasant truths or sadness. After all, the number one prescription in America is an antidepressant! Modern society has declared war on sadness, sorrow, and “unpleasantness.”
But the truth invites us to a more sober reality. Before you think “Oh no, this one’s going to be a depressing read” let me offer you another perspective.
One of the greatest dangers to authentic joy and peace in our lives is the running away from reality. This ease at which modern life is captured by delusion is a powerful symptom of our collective spiritual illness! The escape to delusion or, worse yet, numbness, creates an illusion of peace. But the reality is that it isn’t so much peace as a dream state unsustainable in a world that contains sorrow and pain.
The Orthodox Christian alternative is the unflinching commitment to reality, but a reality informed by an eternal Truth – Jesus Christ is not dead!
In His victory over death, Christ bathes the whole creation with hope! Every situation, every circumstance, is informed and invited to be experienced in the light of this glorious message of “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life!” So, even great suffering, great tragedy, even physical death, is revealed for the temporary reality it is and swallowed by the victory of Christ out of the tomb and ascended to the Father!
But I won’t get to this new perspective without first seeing the world as it is, and that means coming to terms with sadness and grief. Nobody ever gets to Pascha without first traveling through Holy Week, the Garden, and then the Cross. We don’t get to “pretend” to “skip ahead.” Because if we try to get to Pascha without the Suffering, we’ll miss Pascha all together! It will become just another “empty” religious “habit” weakened and eventually lost to the next generation.
So, all of this brings us to today’s Gospel Lesson in Matthew 23:29-39. Jesus is finishing up His series of “Woe’s.” He has just gone through several statements declaring “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Pretty strong stuff. But the Lord is lovingly (yes, lovingly) attempting to shake these religious leaders awake! Take the time to read the whole chapter of Matthew 23 and you’ll see what I mean.
But then the Lord begins a “lament.” Let’s listen in: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”
The Lord deals with reality and gives voice to His grief and love. But this grief and love, this “lament” doesn’t stop Him from continuing His ministry of salvation. Knowing He is rejected by His own people (but not all of His people). Knowing He has been grossly misunderstood. Knowing He will suffer and die, He continues toward His eternal work. He doesn’t allow temporary reality, sad as it may be, discouraging as it may be, to stand in the way of His calling.
Today, is there something temporary attempting to blind you to your calling? Is there some temporary circumstance calling you to sleep in a delusion of denial? Shake it off with a “lament” of your own. Enter into reality with these temporary situations in the light of the Resurrection and watch as delusion is turned into sober joy.
You don’t have to “pretend” something sad isn’t really sad, or something difficult isn’t really difficult. No, today, as we sit with Christ in His Lament over Jerusalem, we are also invited to move from lament to joy as we forever disempower temporary sadnesses from enslaving us and keeping us from Resurrection. Today, allow the reality of “what is” informed by the joy of the Resurrection to free you to lament and move on! Onward to joy!