James 4: 7 - 9
‘God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.’
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
I will remember the funeral of my friend Bob for many reasons. Bob had died in his 20s, from AIDS related illnesses, the crematorium chapel was full (and the buttons on the lectern weren’t labelled) and back in 1991 it was the first ever funeral I’d taken. However, this funeral is seared into my memory as Bob’s mum cried “oh my son” repeatedly as Bob’s coffin was brought in. None of us had a dry eye as the service continued. This type of lamentation is common in many other cultures but rather rare in our own.
The Bible has many examples of laments - from poetry, song and protest. The Biblical material often encourages us to express our emotions when we are at our lowest. In today’s passage we are urged to “lament, mourn and weep” for our sins; it’s not very British really!
Yet our ecological crisis, the injustices of the world, and the plight of the refugees whom our government wishes to turn away on the open seas, all inspire in us the need to lament. Through lamentation we give voice to our deepest emotions and we can start to articulate how the world really is. Through that lamentation we can find the strength to turn things around - to repent. It might not be British but it is very Biblical.
My life flows on in endless song,
above earth’s lamentation.
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Love is lord of heav’n and earth,
how can I keep from singing?
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?
American Shaker Source
The Rev’d Andy Braunston ministers with four churches in and around Glasgow.