The Psalms – A Lament
5 Minute Theology
Beloved, it is okay to be human.
And I want you to know that to its core. We are human beings with complex emotions, yes, but sometimes, those emotions do not align with what societal pressures or internal pressures tell us are acceptable. This moment that we are living, this pandemic and quarantine, is unprescedented. Every single one of us are being asked to do things that are outside the realm of anything we have done before. Our daily lives look different than they did before. The world looks different than it did before. Everything has changed. For some of us, these may look like collassal changes that have disrupted our lives and left us scared and uncertain for the future on every level. For some of us, these changes may seem smaller, however the effects of these small changes have whittled away at us like small drops of water dripping down on drift wood. Eventually, those small drops eat away at the wood. Eventually, these small changes eat away at our spirit. Then we look at the world. And the overwhelming message is that we should be joyful and grateful and full of cheer for what we do have, and while that is lovely and good to feel cheerful and great to feel gratitude, so often times we are not feeling those emotions. Instead we feel fearful and and anxious, maybe even angry, and we look to the messages of toxic positivity splattered everywhere and then we feel deep shame for feeling something we deem a negative emotion. We may even hear that this is who we have been all along. Someone incapable of handling adversity or someone who crumbles in the face of fear, Beloved please hear this message, this is just not true. This entirely unprescendted moment that we find ourselves living daily is not a contest to win or lose in joy or fear. This moment is not here to separate the winners from the losers, nor is it here to show us what we are actually made of inside. In fact, any message that says we are to live in constant joy, especially since we are Christians and that is what we are made to do, is lying. It is absolutely beyond a shadow of any doubt okay for us to feel a spectrum of human emotion. Perhaps, right now we may find it helpful to recover the biblical tradition of lament. Lament is a huge spectrum of human emotion. Lament is anger, and confusion, and anxiety. Lament is praising God in the storm, but not always feeling cheerful in that praise. Lament is when we ask “Why?” and do not get an answer.
One of my favorite theological thinkers is a man by the name of N.T. Wright. He is a highly respected modern theologian, teacher, and author and recently he wrote an article that I found very helpful. In his article entitled, “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To” Wright says this,
“At this point the Psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, come back into their own, just when some churches seem to have given them up. “Be gracious to me, Lord,” prays the sixth Psalm, “for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.” “Why do you stand far off, O Lord?” asks the 10th Psalm plaintively. “Why do you hide yourself in time of trouble?” And so it goes on: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?” (Psalm 13). And, all the more terrifying because Jesus himself quoted it in his agony on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22).”
Honestly, what we can glean from the Psalms is that not only is it okay to feel deep, human emotion with joy and sorrow colliding, perhaps all at once or far apart, but also God feels this deep emotion alongside of us. Your pain is not a character flaw. Nothing is defective about you. You are not failing at this or life in general because you’re not getting a gold star in positivity (or false positivity). No, in fact, what we find in the Bible is that it is something that God experiences and is experiencing right beside of you.
Psalm 116 outlines all of this so beautifully. Verses 1-7 say this,
“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
He heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me,
The anguish of the grave came upon me;
I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
‘O Lord, save me!’
The Lord is gracious and righteous;
Our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simplehearted;
When I was in great need, he saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul,
For the Lord has been good to you.”
Beloved, our God is full of compassion. We can call upon his name of times of trouble and sorrow and he knows because he understands. It says the Lord protects the simplehearted. I don’t think this means a simple or unintelligent person, no, I think it means that the Lord sees our human emotion. Complex as they may be at times, often our myriad of emotions are tied to one. Often we lash out in anger or condemnation when what we are really feeling, is fear. God sees you. God understands you. God feels what you feel. Lean and and find rest in Him, but know that you can come to his throne and fall at his feet feeling whatever emotion you feel. God doesn’t ask us to clean ourselves up or make ourselves acceptable before we enter into his presence, in fact what he says is, “Come as you are.” Come in anger and fear. Come in joy and gratitude. Come in confusion and question. Beloved, you are all invited to come as you are, to find peace beside his still waters and be at rest once more.
The Gospel of Mark – From Power to Passion
5 Minute Theology
As we make our way through Holy Week, and a Social Distancing Holy Week at that, the comfort of scripture is truly our resting place. I have been drawn to the Gospel of Mark for this particular Easter season. The Gospel of Mark is the second book of the New Testament, but historically, was written first. In fact, Mark’s Gospel is the one that scholars have found the other Gospel writers relied on to write their own. Despite all of this, the Gospel of Mark was not respected for many years, and it was not until recently that the work has gained respect amongst scholars and theologians. Now Mark’s Gospel is deeply respected and the opinion of the work has turned around entirely.
What has drawn me to the Gospel of Mark this week is the development of his themes. Mark begins with the message of the ‘power’ of Jesus and ends with the ‘passion’ of Jesus. This matters deeply, and especially now. Let’s start at the beginning. The very first line of Mark’s gospel is ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (Mark 1:1 CEB). This first line is rich with meaning for us, dear reader. First, the very first line of every New Testament book also serves as the title. For a variety of reasons, we know that this book was written for a Roman audience, and so this title line begins to unfold, rich in meaning. We see the term ‘good news’ used immediately, and I wonder if this is a term you recognize readily? ‘Good News’ is a term used often in Christian language to describe the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, this was not a term invented by Christians, this was widely used in the first century. In the original Greek, the Gospel writer used εὐαγγέλιον, meaning “good news”. This may be seen from analysis of euangélion (εὖ eû “good” + ἄγγελος ángelos “messenger.” This term was recognized by all in a Roman audience. In fact, “The Day of the Good News“ was a day that all had to celebrate because of the governors birthday. Kind of like a more intense President’s Day. Mark was deliberately using this language to catch the attention of the people. He then goes on to call out the name Jesus Christ. What is the term Christ? Not Jesus’s last name, but it means Messiah, which is a recognizable term from the Old Testament meaning the anointed king. David and Solomon were famous kings who had been anointed, a highly respected political and divine title. Mark definitely had their attention! Immediately after, Mark calls Jesus the Son of God. Beloved, this means so much to us now, but even more to a Roman audience. Caesar Augustus, the emperor, gave himself the title ‘Son of God’ when he declared himself divine. Augustus literally means ‘he who is to be worshipped.’ Mark is making the amazing claim that Jesus is their Messianic King and is the real royalty and good news, not the emperor. Mark’s title line is packed with a lot of disruptive power! What’s more, heroes in Greco Roman mythology were also referred to as ‘sons of god.’ Think of Hercules with all of his strength and power could move mountains and rivers among other miraculous things. So, how does Mark begin his gospel? With TEN chapters of miracle stories. Mark wanted his readers to know under no uncertain terms that Jesus the Messiah is powerful and almighty and the one and only Son of God!
The message of Mark’s Gospel begins with a messenger in the desert and ends with a messenger in an empty tomb. Friends, perhaps we feel like we are in the desert. Wandering and struggling. Waiting and anxious. Amidst all of the uncertainty and fear of our desert, and as we stand today before the tomb, we peer anxiously inside searching for a powerful answer. But is our saving place in the power? No, not in the power, we are saved through the Passion.
Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we believe that God’s love has gone from the cross to the empty tomb.
And that empty tomb proclaims that everything is different, and that in Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection we see love in action-caring for the least, welcoming the excluded, remembering the forgotten-we see a call to community.
That empty tomb invites us to be a part of the solution and declares in no uncertain terms that we are not isolated nor are we excluded, but are God’s loved and loving people. Bound in spirit and hope.
“Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:5-7 CEB)
He isn’t there. Just as he told you. From power to passion.
The Kenosis Hymn
5 Minute Theology
5 “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ
6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being
equal with God something to
7 But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human
When he found himself in the form
of a human,
8 He humbled himself by
becoming obedient to the point of
Even death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God highly honored
And gave him a name above
10 so that at the name of Jesus
in heaven, on earth, and under
the earth might bow
11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to
the glory of God the Father.”
I have been thinking a lot about this hymn in Philippians as of late. Kenosis comes from the Greek word: ἐκένωσεν (ekenosen), which means ‘he emptied’ as we find in verse 7, “But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings when he found himself in the form of a human”. That particular point is important, but first let us look at a little context. This hymn is written near the beginning of Philippians, a letter penned by Paul to the church at Philippi. Philippi was a major city of Macedonia in the northern Greece and a Roman colony on the this road called the Via Egnatia, a really important road that helped a lot of travel and trade happen to and from Italy. I find so much joy in this letter from Paul because, unlike his other letters, you can clearly see the mutual affection between the people of this church and himself. It really contrasts the problems Paul faced in other churches.
Paul writes this letter from prison, and he writes from a really uncertain time in his life where he is completely unsure of the outcome for himself. The themes of opposition, hostility, and the possibility of death are present in his letter. Can we relate to this at all? Are we walking through an uncertain time, kept in a form of what feels like captivity? Lonely. Uncertain. Fearful of what may or may not come next. While our major concerns may be contextually different, the emotions like fear and hostility. Distrust and uncertainty…well, these certainly feel the same, don’t they?
That Paul’s Letter to the Philippians was written from prison increases the power of its message for Christians of every time and place. In our modern time, we have come to respect and honor letters from prison. I think of Martin Luther King Jr. and his letter written from Birmingham jail during the early days of the civil rights movement. His letter is a beacon of justice and strength for us all, even today. I think of Nelson Mandela and his letters from prison in South Africa during apartheid and how they must have breathed life into so many to take action in their country on behalf of the dignity and freedom of all people. A message of action, hope, justice, and peace. What’s more, is that these letters spoke to the people at the time to let them know that even through the toughest of times, they are not alone. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is no exception. The witness of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is written from an uncertain prison, yes, but is immersed in faith, courage, and sparkling joy. His letter has compelling and enduring power.
We have now arrived at the Kenosis Hymn itself, Paul’s great Christ hymn. At the very beginning in verses 6 and 7, we see how Jesus has solidarity with God being in the form of God and also equal with God, but also Jesus’s solidarity with us as humans, “6 Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. 7 But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.” In verse 7 we see that Greek word I mentioned earlier ἐκένωσεν (ekenosen), meaning he emptied himself. Now, the meaning of this phrase and overall hymn has been (and continues to be) debated amongst scholars and theologians, however what we can clearly see is that God did not wish to be an unreachable, untouchable, unrelatable deity. You see, the ancient people of the time were accustomed to worshipping gods that were unreachable. They heard stories of these gods who, at their best, wanted all the power and glory and worship, and if the people complied, they may be rewarded with favor by the gods. These gods, at their worst, were fickle and unreliable and were believed to punish those who followed them according to the whim of the gods. This is what the ancient believers knew ‘god’ to be, and this God that Paul spoke of, was completely radical. An Almighty God who would lower himself to not only commune with humans, but to become human. To experience humanity for himself. To experience pain, love, fear, agony, joy, grief, friendship, captivity, and ultimately, death. Who IS this God? What was amazing to our ancient readers, continues to be amazing to us today. Beloved, we also experience love, and fear, and joy, and grief. We, in our humanity, feel anxious and question an uncertain future. Ultimately, we experience death. The amazing thing is, so did God. The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann said, “Human beings are not merely created by God; they in their turn also make an impression on God. It is not only we who experience God; God also ‘experiences’ us, and the ‘experience which God has with us remains existent in God’. God humbled himself to experience us, to resonate, and create solidarity with us. Even in death.
What does this mean for us? Especially for right now. In this time of anxiety, and fear, and loneliness we often ask the question, “Where is God?” The answer is found in scripture. ”7 But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, 8 He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, Even death on a cross.” He is with us. Not only is God with us, he can empathize and sympathize with our feelings of fear and pain. Agony and solitude. He can empathize with us because he has experienced everything that we have.
So, where is God when I am afraid of an uncertain future feel anxious and weary?
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane. He said to the disciples, “Stay here while I go and pray over there.” When he took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, he began to feel sad and anxious.”
Where is God when I am lonely?
“Then he said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me.”
Where is God when I’m exhausted and I just feel like I need to regroup?
“Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain.”
Where is God when someone I love dies and I am devastated?
“When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. He asked, “Where have you laid him?” They replied, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to cry. The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!”
Where is God when I feel like I’ve been completely abandoned?
“At about three Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”
Where is God when I’m sick or dying?
“It was now about noon, and darkness covered the whole earth until about three o’clock, while the sun stopped shining. Then the curtain in the sanctuary tore down the middle. Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life.” After he said this, he breathed for the last time.”
God “emptied himself” into the human form of Jesus and experienced what humanity experiences. Where is God through all of this? He is right here. He knows how we feel because he’s experienced it like we have. Paul tell us in his letter to the Philippians that unlike any other god we think we know, because he “emptied himself” God never leaves our side through anything we experience.
“Be strong! Be fearless! Don’t be afraid and don’t be scared by your enemies, because the Lord your God is the one who marches with you. He won’t let you down, and he won’t abandon you.”
God will never abandon you.
*5 Minute Theology*
I wish we were talking face-to-face. Or even on the phone, and truly a phone call is not out of the question.
Let’s check-in with one another. How are YOU?
I wish we were together, but I wanted to talk to you nonetheless, because this place that we’re in right now…The Coronavirus/Covid-19. Well, we’ve never been here before, have we? This sense that we are in the strange calm before a big storm, or standing on the precipice, or in a moment before the actual moment happens, whatever feels comfortable to call it, the truth is, we don’t know where this is headed. We just don’t know how big this monster is, the path in front of us is not illuminated, it’s dark and filled with murky dark shadows that make it impossible to see. And that creates an uneasiness in our shared lives with one another. There have been deaths, there are quarantines, there are untested symptoms. For many of us, this is like staring at a wave coming toward shore, ready to crash, but we have no idea how fast or close it is to crashing. We sense it.
So, for every one of you that finds yourself on edge, restless, with an impending sense of dread. Jittery, twitchy, jumpy, ready to be set off and any moment? Perhaps you find yourself confused or maybe…you’re downright angry! Maybe you don’t know why you’ve been feeling the way you’re feeling. Friends, this is so normal. This upcoming “moment” that we are standing right behind, it hasn’t quite revealed its shape. Maybe you feel angry at the response? Angry at toilet paper or empty shelves? Maybe you’re so tired of the news cycle on tv or online that you feel like screaming? Or at least angrily scoffing! Friends, if you can’t quite put a finger on what is wrong with you, or you feel like you’re angry at something that doesn’t even really make sense or you don’t know how it exists…I want you to know that you are not alone.
You know, when whales travel through the ocean, they can’t see in front of them, nor can they see each other because of the darkness and the distance. They communicate with one another through their whale songs as “sonar” and through this, they can connect with other members of their group or pod. They can’t see one another. They feel far away. They have lost touch or connection. Yet, they call out to one another. The whales do not feel comfortable until they do. So, when people you don’t even know, half-way around the world in Italy or across the country in Seattle, are affected by the Coronavirus and you feel on edge or perhaps lose rest or sleep… Dear friends, it is because not unlike whales, we feel connected with one another. Through all of our differences, labels, language, culture, creeds, and so much more, we all have one universal and important thing in common: we are all human and we are connected with one another. We have this uncertainty, this Coronavirus, which has proven to be dangerous for many, and then also attached to it is this realization that our fast-paced world that has had answers to all of our questions all at our fingertips, is fragile. The world that we have known to be safe, suddenly does not feel that way. We are vulnerable.
So, what now? We realize that we are different then the system in which we currently live. The system that says it’s about “me.” My success. Have it my way. Pick myself up by my bootstraps. This isn’t who we are. Our system has raised us to be individuals who consume. But we are made to desire more than that. We are connected. We are each part of a larger body. Consider the very foundation of Christian community: the cross. Christ gathers different “bodies” and puts them into one body. Not to make us all carbon copies. Not because of a specific law as early Christians may have wondered. But because we all come together under the cross regardless of our culture, ethnicity, race, gender, or class. The Apostle Paul writes: “Because there is one bread we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17). The bread stands for the crucified body of Christ. The palpable emblem that illustrates Jesus’s refusal to remain one body or singularity, but a body that has opened itself up so that others may freely partake. The crucified Messiah creates unity by giving his own self. We are connected to be unified in Him. Unified in the cross. Unified in our undying pursuit to be one body so that it may fill others with the desire to come and partake of the cross.
If you have somehow found yourself with a renewed sense of community. A realization that we are truly all in this together. That can be scary and beautiful all at once. We are invited now to be present with one another. We are going to have slow down. Events are canceled. We have to stay 6 feet away from one another. Limit the amount of people around you. We will slow down, and be present. And in this presence, we can truly be attune to one another. Metaphorically “sit” with one another. What if we took this break from the constant and rapid rhythm we have become accustomed to, and we grew together in faith? What if we grew together in spirit and empathy? What if we grew together and found new ways to spend with one another? What if we look this uncharted monster in the face and we decided to look for the hope? For the love? What if we did? We will find the peace that transcends all understanding and the authentic love for our neighbor because we are all connected. In the midst of it all, we are all together.
I invite you to pause and practice a Breath Prayer (Credit: Sarah Bessey) for these anxious times.
And as always, wash your hands. 😉
To learn how to practice Breath Prayers and for scripture references to pray, check out Sarah Bessey’s Blog at the link below: