Church of the Living God

The Days We Mourn (Easter 2017)

The Bible is full of ‘three day stories”[1]:  Jonah; Joseph’s brothers in jail in Egypt; the plague of darkness in Egypt. When the Israelites left Egypt, they traveled three days into the desert before they found water; Rahab hid the spies for three days; plagues of judgment against Israel often lasted three days.

Jesus was in the tomb for three days.

On the third day is when the bad stuff ends. That’s the day we celebrate, and rightly so. But third day stories aren’t clear until the third day. On Day One and Day Two, it’s not yet clear how the story will end. The First day of Third Day story is often a brutal one.

It was the First Day –  Crucifixion Friday, or Good Friday –  that Jesus died.  His followers did not know this was a Third Day story. All they had on that Friday was the First Day. They had seen so many failed messiah’s by this point[2]. They did not understand the prophecy that pointed toward Jesus’ resurrection. They were afraid and in despair.

Crucifixion Friday reminds us that Jesus knows what it means that all of creation groans (Romans 8:22) and how the very land mourns (says Jeremiah 12:4). When the prophet Isaiah wrote of the coming Christ, he wrote, “Surely he has borne our grief’s and carried our sorrows; He was stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4)

Jesus understands our First Days. His entrance into the human condition showed that God is not a distant, uncaring and cold God. God understands us.  

“God’s beloved Son, leaving the echoes of His cries upon the mountains and the traces of His weary feet upon the streets, shedding His tears over the tombs and His blood upon Golgotha, associating His life with our homes, and His corpse with our sepulchres, shows us how we, too, may be… sure of sympathy in heaven amid the deepest wrongs and sorrows of earth.” – Edward Thomson.

So today, we are going to begin our journey toward the Third Day – Resurrection Sunday – but settling into the reality of First Days in our lives, and the importance of clinging to a Savior who understands even the most terrifying and tragic days of our lives.

“The psalms of pain and protest shock Christians who are not used to this way of talking to God. Yet they have an explicit place in the New Testament. Jesus uses the phraseology of Psalms 6 and 42 in Gethsemane, and on the cross utters the extraordinary cry that opens Psalms 22. Nor does Jesus pray these prayers so that we might not have to do so, for a lament such as Psalm 44 appears on the lips of Paul (Romans 8:36). In the New Testament, believers grieve and protest. To refuse to do so is often to refuse to face our pains and our losses.” (John Goldingay)

In ancient Israel, mourning was a community event. Family and friends showed support by participating in the rituals of lament with the mourner (e. g. Job 2:12-13). To fail to show solidarity in such a situation was to deny the shared covenant. The lament was so formalized that Zechariah gives directions about how to do them in proper order. (12:11-14).  I think Nicholas Wolerstorff, in his book Lament for a Son, captures the reason why well.

“What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.”

On Resurrection Sunday, we are going to talk about the primary reason Jesus died: to forgive our sins and save us from the penalty of eternal death. That will also be a part of this morning as well, but first we are going to focus on a different part of the story that the church has commemorated for 2,000 years (at least the more liturgical churches have). We are going to sit on the mourning bench with each other as we offer our suffering to a Savior who suffered and died so that we could live.

READER: As the soldiers led Jesus away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.’”  (Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:13-28)

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining...  Then Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.”  (Matthew 27:45-50; Luke 23:44-47)

Pastor: Jesus entered a world that was broken, suffering, and full of pain. He grieved the loss of his friends; he wept for his people. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He entered into a lonesome, weary world in desperate need of the light of hope and peace to bring the promise of God's everlasting presence and love.

 

 

Pastor: God, you have given us reason to celebrate, but we often find the days cold and our hearts hard.  As we await our resurrection into the new life in the world to come, it’s sometimes hard for us to lift up our hearts. You understand the grief of this world; meet us in our aching hearts we pray. Hold as we walk through darkness.

Congregation: Help us. Embrace us. Heal us.

READER:  “He was despised and forsaken by men, this man of suffering, grief’s patient friend.
As if he was a person to avoid, we looked the other way; he was despised, forsaken, and we took no notice of him. Yet it was our suffering he carried, our pain and distress, our sickness-to-the-soul.


We thought that God had rejected him, but he was hurt because of us; he suffered for us. Our wrongdoing wounded and crushed him. He endured the breaking that made us whole. His injuries became our healing. We all have wandered off, like shepherdless sheep, scattered by our aimless pursuits; The Eternal One laid on him, this silent sufferer, the sins of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)

Pastor: Jesus knows the feelings of abandonment, anger, and loneliness we sometimes feel. Jesus knows the depths of our broken hearts, and He alone has the power to bring beauty from the ashes in our lives. We long for the day when His work will be completed in us and in a world that groans as it awaits redemption.  

Congregation: Meanwhile, we weep with those who weep, and we mourn with those who mourn.

READER: The Psalmist wrote in the 88th psalm: O Eternal One! O True God my Savior! I cry out to You all the time, under the sun and the moon. Let my voice reach You! Please listen to my prayers! My soul is deeply troubled, and my heart can’t bear the weight of this sorrow. I feel so close to death…

You crush me with Your anger.
You crash against me like the relentless, angry sea. Those whom I have known, who have been with me,
You have gathered like sheaves and cast to the four winds.
They can’t bear to look me in the eye, and they are horrified when they think of me.
 I am in a trap and cannot be free…

Are You the miracle-worker for the dead?
Will they rise from the dark shadows to worship You again? Will your great love be proclaimed in the grave or Your faithfulness be remembered in whispers like mists throughout the place of ruin? Are Your wonders known in the dominion of darkness,
or is Your righteousness recognized in a land where all is forgotten?

But I am calling out to You, Eternal One.
My prayers rise before You with every new sun! Why do You turn Your head
and brush me aside, O Eternal One?
 Why are You avoiding me… I am desperate. Your rage spills over me like rivers of fire; Your assaults have all but destroyed me…  You have taken from me the one I love and my friend; darkness is my closest friend.

 

 

PASTOR: In the midst of the brokenness of this world, we have reason to say, “Hallelujah.” Because even when we are tempted to give up, even when we have lost that which brings ‘life’ to our life, even when the comfort of our friends has brought us nothing but ashes, God does not abandon us.

READER: “At different times and in various ways, God’s voice came to our ancestors through the Hebrew prophets. But in these last days, God’s voice has come to us through His Son, the One who has been given dominion over all things and through whom all worlds were made.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Pastor: God of light and life, you speak even when we do not hear. You are present even when we do not sense you are near. In the midst of darkness and silence, we listen for your voice and long to feel your comforting grace.

Congregation: God of the desperate, draw near us as we draw near to you. Open our eyes so we can see you; open our ears so we can hear.

READER: The prophet Jeremiah wrote: “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick… For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.  Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there…?  O, that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night…”  (Jeremiah 8:18,21-9:1)                    

Pastor: In this place, we join with the prophets in freely admitting our pain, our loss, our fear. Though the light of God’s mercy illuminates our tears, we mourn without shame. Here, among God’s people, we are welcome even if we're cynical, even if we're angry, even if we scoff at the mention of hope and meaning. Here we can bare our hearts to those who will help us to bear our burden.

Congregation: Here we, the followers of a weeping Savior, bear one another’s burdens.

Pastor: Here, in the company of those who follow the Prince of Peace, let us be at peace. 

Congregation: May we, the church, be a sanctuary of God’s peace for those in need of shelter.

Pastor: We will cast our sorrows upon Christ, for He cares for us.

READER: The Psalmist wrote:

“My soul is dry and thirsts for You, True God, as a deer thirsts for water.

I long for the True God who lives.
When can I stand before Him and feel His comfort? Right now I’m overwhelmed by my sorrow and pain;
I can’t stop feasting on my tears.
People crowd around me and say,
“Where is your True God whom you claim will save?” With a broken heart,
I remember times before
When I was with Your people. Those were better days. 

I used to lead them happily into the True God’s house,
Singing with joy, shouting thanksgivings with abandon,
joining the congregation in the celebration. Why am I so overwrought?
Why am I so disturbed?
Why can’t I just hope in God?
(Psalm 42:1-6)

 

 

READER: Though we are worn as we wait for all that is dead to be reborn, we can agree with what David wrote in Psalm 42: “ I will believe and praise the One who saves me and is my life… in the light of day, the Eternal shows me His love. When night settles in and all is dark, He keeps me company—His soothing song, a prayerful melody to the True God of my life.” (Psalm 42:7-8)

Pastor: As we lift our broken hands toward the only One who can heal us, we light the darkness of our memories with candles that help us to remember that though our grief is real, our hope burns brightly with the light of the True God of life.

The First Candle

We light our first candle to acknowledge the pain of loss: the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, the loss of health. We take the pain of the past, offering it to God from whose nail-scarred hands we may receive the gift of peace. We light this candle for the light of love to illuminate that which was lost in the darkness of our history.

Congregation: Renew us, God of light and joy.

The Second Candle

We light the second candle to remember those who have died. We remember their name, their face, their voice, the memory that we carry with us. We remember the times we laughed, argued, loved, hugged, smiled, and wept. The valley of the shadow of death can seem relentless, so we light this candle to commemorate the memories of a life once shared, and to illuminate with comfort the path of those of us who mourn.

Congregation:  May the light of a dying and risen Savior’s eternal love surround us.

The Third Candle

We light the third candle to our attitudes, our mindset, our hidden, inner times of darkness.  We acknowledge the times of disbelief, anger, despair, and frustration, the times we have compromised our integrity and lost our innocence. We bring God’s pure light to the depth of our flawed mortality. With this light, we also remember the family and friends who have stood with us, and the Savior who is faithful even when we are not.

Congregation:  Let us remember that Christ brings the light of life.

The Fourth Candle

We light this candle to remember those who feel alone, who feel isolated from loved ones, far from home, far from friends, far from a God they believe is unconcerned with their suffering. We light this candle to remember that the God who guided His people through a wilderness with fire can illuminate the way of those captive to the darkness of loneliness and disillusionment.

Congregation:  May Jesus, who was despised and rejected, comfort the lonely and brokenhearted.

The Fifth Candle                                                                                                                           We light this candle to remember those who are in the midst of hardships that threaten to overwhelm them. For the poor, the persecuted, the hungry, the homeless, the sick. We lift up those who suffer the pain, indignity, and bewilderment that accompany a broken body, spirit or soul. We pray that God, who lit up the night to guide wise men to the healing Christ, will light the way today to a Risen Savior. 

Congregation: O God, light our path; bring hope to the hopeless; make us new.

The Sixth Candle

We light the sixth candle to remember our faith and the gift of hope. We remember that God promises those who love him a world with no more pain and suffering. We light a candle for courage in the darkness. We confront our sorrow, our loss, our confusion. With God’s Spirit and the presence of his people, we bring the light of comfort to each other, bearing each other’s burdens, and praying for hope in our broken world.

Congregation.  Let us remember the One who draws beauty from ashes, brings the truth, and offers us hope.

READER: The Apostle Paul wrote: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

Pastor: It is through the suffering of Christ that we find comfort in the midst of our suffering as well.  On the night Jesus offered himself up for us he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." When the supper was over he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Drink from this, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
 

Congregation: Because of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we have been delivered from the power of sin, death, and despair. In the light of Gods’ Word, the sacrifice of Christ, and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, may we endure with hope and faith.

Pastor: It was in His parting sorrow that Jesus asked His disciples to remember Him. May we, the church, be united in the fellowship of his suffering so we can experience the power of his resurrection.

READER:  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’  And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’  (Revelation 21:1-5)

Pastor: In the promise of God’s never-ending love from which nothing can separate us, we claim peace. We long for the day when there shall be no more tears, no more sorrow, no more sickness, no more death. Even when we see only a glimmer, we know the light of your love is overcoming all darkness.

Congregation: Christ himself is with us.  He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Pastor: Hear the good news:  God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. One day, Christ who died and rose again will wipe all tears from our eyes. He will make all things new.

Congregation: All Honor and glory to the only One who can bring us peace.

Pastor: As we wait for Resurrection, we lift up our broken hearts. May the God of Comfort be with us.

Congregation: May the God of Resurrection be with us all. [3]

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[1] I got this idea from a brilliant teaching called “Saturday: Living Between Crucifixion and Resurrection,” posted by Richmont Graduate University on youtube. You can access the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U90EKNZPKCU

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12416-pseudo-messiahs

[3] NOTE: I had never written a liturgy or a lament before this one. I found four or five online, read them for a week, then wrote this one. In other words, I could not have written this without learning from others. I think one of those can be found at Blue Christmas Resources; another at A Service for Longest Night. Unfortunately, I have no idea where I found the rest of them. I tried hard not to plagiarize; I hope I succeeded.

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