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Liturgies of Lament

Published Date: August 1, 2017

By President Timothy C. Tennent

We have been trained to think of church as a place of celebration.  And, why not?  After all, it is in the company of God’s people that we remember our miraculous deliverance from sin and death; when we recall God’s mighty acts of redemption, and look forward to His final return when He will set all things right.  The church should be a place of celebration.

However, central to our theology is that we as the people of God occupy that “in-between” space which is sometimes called the “already- not yet” tension.  This means that the kingdom of God has “already” broken into this world, but it has “not yet” been fully consummated.  So, even as we celebrate, we look around and see endless signs of brokenness and despair.   We are regularly reminded of how deeply troubled our society is.  Richard  Collins, an African American honor student who was an ROTC cadet was murdered by a white supremacist while he was quietly waiting for an Uber car.  LeBron James comes home to find racist graffiti displayed.  A noose is found at the African American museum in D. C.  All three of these incidents happened in a single week.  Every week there are new examples of the deep racial divide in our country.  Between May and June 2016 Britain experienced three separate terrorist attacks.  Twice we have seen Coptic Christians murdered by terrorists in Egypt.  Drug addiction in our country is soaring with 49,000 fatalities due to opioid overdose alone in 2016.  This is comparable to the total loss of American soldiers during the Vietnam War!  

There are many things we can do to bring the gospel into all of these places of pain.  However, whatever we do should begin with prayers and lament.  I would encourage you to use the psalms as a basis for writing laments for Sunday worship services.  Here is an example based on verses from Psalm 13 and 79.

Liturgy for Sunday Morning

Taken from Psalms 13, 79

Leader:            How long, O Lord, will you forget us forever?

People:            How long will you hide your face from us?

Leader:            How long must we take counsel in our souls and have sorrow in our hearts all day?

People:            Consider and answer us, O Lord our God!

Leader:            Have mercy on our nation, and bring healing to our racial divides!

People:            Do not remember against us our former iniquities.

Leader:            The blood of our children is being poured out on the streets through acts of violence.

People:            Help us, O God of our salvation.

Leader:            May justice and righteousness be honored again in our nation;

People:            Let your compassion come speedily to meet us for we are brought very low.

Leader:            Let the groans of those imprisoned by drugs and despair come before you;

People:            Deliver us and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake.

Leader:            For we have trusted in your steadfast love;

People:            Our hearts shall rejoice in your salvation.

ALL:              We will sing to the Lord, because he will show us mercy.


5 responses to “Liturgies of Lament”

  1. Thank you for this reminder. I receive this counsel.

  2. Laura Baber says:

    Yes and amen. This is a huge part of my work as a spiritual director. As Christians we have a beautiful place to release our sufferings…to the wounds of Christ. And yet we so rarely focus on this when we gather to worship. Lament can be a place where the church can offer sacred space for hurting people to release their pain to an amazing God who takes it if we but let it go.

  3. Clancy Thompson says:

    Powerful reminder fro God’s Word.

  4. Dr. Daryl Wilson says:

    A beautiful reminder of both the power and importance of lament/repentance as a corporate act. It unites us in expressing our need and our faith.

  5. Howard Biddulph says:

    Thanks for this reminder! There’s nothing like suffering to help us identify with the pain we are all going through individually, as a congregation, and as a nation. In non-liturgical congregations we still have the screen on which to project the antiphonal reading!

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