The lamentable season of lent

Published 5:05 pm Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Growing up, I knew that lint collected around the dryer and the navel, and that neither was particularly appealing.  Eventually, I learned there was another kind of Lent, and it wasn’t particularly appealing, either.  Forty days of self-imposed penance seemed bewildering.

I know that Jesus was tempted in the wild for 40 days, but in case no one has noticed, we bear little resemblance to Jesus. Sure, he was able to survive, but do we have the wherewithal? Is it necessary or wise to struggle with such a sullen task?  Isn’t life tough enough as it is?  Must we consciously make our lives even more difficult?

Tom Long, who teaches preaching at Emory, shares an exchange between a seminary professor and a former student. The former student, who is now pastoring his first congregation, pays a visit to the trusted professor.  He’s served this congregation for less than a year and he’s on the edge of trouble.  Some in the congregation want a “praise band” and others do not.  The former student solicits the wise counsel of his professor.

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“What should I do?  I’m really at a crossroads,” he says. “I know I can trust you, and that’s why I want your honest opinion, do you think it’s okay for us to have a praise band?”

“Sure,” said the professor.  “It’s fine for you to have a praise band.”  And then the professor paused, leaning in to finish his sentence, “As long as you also have a lament band.”

There is a temptation to avoid the sorrow and pain of life — and that is certainly understandable. Life, however, comes our way, and with the beauty and joy, there is also sorrow and pain.  It’s part of the human condition.  To deny that reality is dishonest.

Fortunately, many of the 150 Psalms offer faithful examples of lament. These lament Psalms (Jesus offered one of them, Psalm 22, from the cross) remind us that we are not exempt from pain and suffering. And we should be honest — to God and each other — about that.

Instead of heaping arbitrary burdens our way, the lamentable season of Lent graciously invites us to be honest — honest about ourselves, and honest with ourselves, honest about the suffering and broken world in which we live. Speaking honestly about our frailty and faithlessness is actually liberating.  In a world that expects us to be happy at all costs, Lent invites us to honest, faithful lament.

So at least for a season, let’s tune up the “lament band” and share in the sufferings of this world

–  Pastor Jeff Harris of Tryon First Baptist