I recently attended the baptism of my niece. It was wonderful to hear her share the story of her faith in Christ, her commitment to him, and why she wanted to be baptized. There was so much joy as my brother-in-law baptized her. That moment when she rose up out of the water, as it is for all Christians, was visually, theologically and emotionally. It brought tears to my eyes.
Then my younger two kids got up out of their seats and went over to my neice, their cousin, who had just been baptized, to hug her. That brought even more tears to my eyes!
I don’t know if you get like this, but for me, when my emotions get started, it can be really easy to keep them going. As more people got baptized, it brought more tears flowing down my cheeks. I don’t think it would surprise you to learn that those were happy tears. Our son Connor and his fiancé Katie get married next weekend, and there will many more happy tears.
We humans love happy tears.
In this five-part series on Ezekiel 19, though, we need to talk about the other kind of tears. The sad tears, the angry tears, the bitter tears. These are the kinds of tears we don’t like. The kind we don’t want to experience. But they are a part of life too.
Turn to Ezekiel 19, and we are going to find a surprising source of bitter tears.
Look at verse 1 and that very first phrase: “Take up a lament.” Before we go any further, I have to ask, what is lament?
In our study through Ezekiel, we have heard that word “lament” before. Do you remember when? If you don’t remember, that’s okay. It was over three months ago!
Ezekiel chapters 2 and 3 record the story of God commissioning Ezekiel to be a prophet. In Ezekiel 2, verse 10, we read that God asks Ezekiel to eat a scroll. Weird, right? But in our study through the book of Ezekiel, there’s been a lot of weirdness, and eating a scroll is not even close to the weirdest. I doubt that God literally gave Ezekiel a scroll to eat. Why? Do you know what material was used to make ancient scrolls? It wasn’t a cannoli or an egg roll. Ancient scrolls were made of leather. Have you ever tried to eat leather?
Instead of a discussion about ancient culinary delights, this was a symbolic vision in which God was saying, “Ezekiel, I am going to put my words in your mouth, and I want you to speak only my words.” That’s what a prophet does. A prophet speaks the word of God, as they are in tune with his heart and share it with the goal of hope and restoration. There in chapter 2 verse 10, what words does God say he is going to give Ezekiel? Words of “lament and mourning and woe.” When we hear those three words, my guess is that most of us consider them to be very negative, depressing words. In fact, those words pretty much sum up what we have heard from Ezekiel ever since. Ezekiel 2 teaches us, then, that lament is an expression of negative feelings, but what is lament specifically?
Turn back to Ezekiel 19 verse 1, where God says to Ezekiel, “take up a lament.” At least a year and a half has gone by since God first told Ezekiel that he would give Ezekiel words of lament. Now God has a lament that he wants Ezekiel to declare.
But again I ask, what is lament? If you have been a reader of this blog for at least four years, you might remember that our 2017 Advent series was called Community Lament. (That series started with this post.) Lament is holy complaint. It is the idea of a crying out. There is a book of the Bible called Lamentations, which is one big, long lament. Further, some scholars identify nearly half of the psalms as being, or including, lament. In fact, that Advent sermon series in 2017 studied four such psalms of lament (80, 85, 89 and 126).
Perhaps the quintessential lament in the book of Psalms is Psalm 13. Join me in taking a brief glance at what makes this poem a lament. Open a Bible to Psalm 13, and do you notice a repeated phrase? That repeated phrase is, “How long, O Lord?” The psalm writer, David, is crying out his complaint to God. David is really emotional. He is in great pain, and he blames God for not doing anything to assuage his pain.
I read this and think, “Wow, I can’t imagine talking to God like that.” Yet there are times, if we admit it, when we are angry with God, or at least we feel slightly upset with him. We might not write a poem or song to express our emotions to God, like David did, but we can admit that we’re feeling angry toward God, we’re thinking about our pain, maybe even cursing in our heads, and sometimes we even speak our frustration or complaint to God. As we’ll see in this week’s series of posts, we need to lament.
Here is a guided lament you can use right now.