Tuesday of Holy Week (Psalm 71:1-14)

Station 3 of the Stations of the Cross, along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem

In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
    incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge,
    a strong fortress to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
    from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
For you, O Lord, are my hope,
    my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
From my birth I have leaned upon you,
    my protector since my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.

I have been like a portent to many,
    but you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise
    and with your glory all day long.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
    do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
For my enemies speak concerning me,
    and those who watch for my life consult together.
They say, “Pursue and seize that person
    whom God has forsaken,
    for there is no one to deliver.”

O God do not be far from me;
    O my God, make haste to help me!
Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
    let those who seek to hurt me
    be covered with scorn and disgrace.
But I will hope continually
    and will praise you yet more and more. (New Revised Standard Version)

Christians take a decided interpretation of seeing Christ in the psalms. For us, we can envision Jesus saying these words of lament in the last days of his earthly life and ministry.

Why lament?

Lament is a significant piece of Lent, and is especially present in these final days of the season, Holy Week. To lament is to offer a public and passionate expression of grief. And it’s not optional but necessary and vital to the Christian experience, not to mention the human condition.

Without lamenting our great losses, our grief comes out sideways, inevitably harming others with our snarky vitriol. Lament gives expression to our deep grief. It enables us to come to grips with what has happened in the past, or happening to us in the present, and within us.

What does it mean to lament?

  • A lament is an expression of personal grief, due to any significant change or loss; it is the normal emotional, spiritual, physical, and relational reaction to that loss.
  • Lamenting is an intentional process of letting go. Relationships, dreams, plans, and people all die. We cannot get them back. Lament helps us find and live into a new identity after the loss or change.
  • Expressing grief through lament is intensely personal; there is no one-size-fits-all. No one else can do our lamentation for us.

How do I lament?

There are many psalms of lament, including our psalm lesson for today. They all have a typical structure to them, including:

  • Addressing God: Crying out for help. Some psalms of lament expand to include a statement of praise or a recollection of God’s intervention in the past. (Psalm 71:1-3)
  • Complaint: Telling God (said with some flavor!) about our problem or experience through a range and depth of emotional, relational, and spiritual reactions to the change or loss. (Psalm 71:4)
  • Confession of Trust: Remaining confident in God despite the circumstances. Beginning to see problems differently. (Psalm 71:5-8)
  • Petition: Proclaiming confidence in God. Appealing to God for deliverance and intervention. Keep in mind that petitioning is not bargaining with God or a refusal to accept loss. Rather, it is a legitimate seeking of help. (Psalm 71:9-13)
  • Words of Assurance: Expressing certainty that the petition will be heard by God. (Psalm 71:14a)
  • Vow of Praise: Vowing to testify in the future to what God will do with praise. (Psalm 71:14b-24)

I encourage and urge you to consider the following spiritual practice in this Holy Week: Set aside some time and craft your own psalm of lament.

Choose an event from your past which created grief for you. It can be recent or from years ago. Using the structure of lament psalms, thoughtfully write out each element as I have outlined it. Then, read it aloud to God. Perhaps even take another step by reading your lament aloud to a trusted family member, friend, or faith leader.

Our grief needs the outlet of lament. Grief which is not expressed ends up sitting heavily in the soul. Eventually, over time, if not acknowledged and spoken aloud, it can easily become putrid and rancid, poisoning our spirit, and compromising our faith.

Sharing your story through lament is biblical, practical, and I insist, necessary. I regularly craft psalms of lament whenever I have events or people who keep sticking with me in my thoughts and in my heart. Here is one example from a few years ago, after a mass shooting in my city:

Lord, in our shock and confusion, we come before you.

In our grief and despair, in the midst of hate,

in our sense of helplessness in the face of violence,

we lean on you. How long, O Lord, must we keep facing this!?

For the families of those who have been killed, we pray.

For the family of the shooter—help us to pray, Lord.

For the communities that have lost members—their anger, grief, fear—we pray.

For the churches striving to be your light in darkness, beyond our comprehension, we pray.

In the face of hatred, may we claim love, Lord.

May we love those far off and those near.

May we love those who are strangers and those who are friends.

May we love those who we agree with and understand,

and even more so, Lord, those who we consider to be our enemies.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Heal our sin-sick souls, and grant us your peace.

Make these wounds whole, Lord, for you can do it. Amen.

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