Weeping may endure for the night – The praxis of lamenting by Rev Alton P Bell

As we approach the feast of Pentecost, the time when Christians celebrate the birth of the Church, we will hear many sermons about the coming of Holy Spirit and the tongues of fire that empowers the believers in Jesus to be witnesses in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. My concern is that many will not consider the significance of the 10 days prior to the day of Pentecost.

In Acts 1:4, Jesus commands His followers to wait in Jerusalem until the first day of Pentecost, then they will be filled/baptised in or with Holy Spirit. What were they supposed to do in the 10 days’ waiting period? Luke does not tell us, as he cites Peter preaching and quoting from Joel 2:28ff as a fulfilment of that prophecy.

I want to suggest that as we try to come to terms with the impact of COVID-19, we reflect on the events prior to the day of Pentecost, include them in our liturgies and sermons, and develop a theology of lament.

What are the antecedents for this?

It was 10 days before the first Pentecost that Moses received the 10 Commandments (the Law) from God and gave them to the people.  In fulfilment of the law (Matthew 5:17), Jesus was crucified on the very day of Passover (14th Nissan); rose from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits (17th Nissan), and ascended to heaven 40 days after His resurrection. However, before His ascension, Jesus reminded His disciples that ‘everything written about Him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled and that the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His Name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem.’ Finally, Jesus says: “Stay in the city as I am going to send you what My Father has promised, and you will be clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:44-49).  

Whilst waiting for the day of Pentecost to come, Peter and the other 119 believers spent these 10 days praying earnestly to the Lord (Acts 1:14). 

‘When the day of Pentecost finally came, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke with other tongues’ (Acts 2:4).However, when Peter preached to the gathered crowd at about 9am, he quotes from Joel 2:28-32 and Psalms 16 and 110 as the fulfilment of those prophecies. He says nothing about the preceding prophetic utterance of Joel in chapter 2.

As we celebrate Pentecost this year, I believe the Lord is calling His Church to embrace a theology of lament. As Joel says in chapter 2:12 – ‘The Lord is calling His people to ‘return to Him with all their hearts with fasting and weeping and mourning’ and He wants us to ‘rend out hearts and not our garments and return to the Lord.’ 

The act of lamenting must be led by the Priests who minister before the Lord. They must ‘weep between the portico and the altar’ (verse 17).

Lament is a grief experienced and expressed, and reflects the grief that God feels when we sin against Him and break His heart. Jesus experienced and expressed grief. And the apostle Paul knew how to lament. Weeping for the churches he planted became his normal response, consequently when he heard of sexual sin and the other misdemeanours of the Corinthians, his response was: “Godly sorrow brings repentance and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10).   

The coming joy of Pentecost must be preceded by a time of lamenting for the grief and sorrow that the COVID-19 plague has wrought on the land, and particularly on those from the BAME community. Many were not able to attend funerals to pay their last respects to loved ones, friends and colleagues. Many lost jobs, businesses and careers. We all had to navigate the supermarkets and shops employing the new norm of social distancing whilst in lockdown.

Conclusion 

1. The Church needs to restore the practice of Lamentations as a normal, appropriate, spiritual response. 

2. Institute a National Day of Lamentation. Use the Christian festival of All Saints’ Day (Sunday 1st November 2020), to remember our loved ones and friends within a Christian context, by holding a service in which the Church can invite the community to come and share their grief for their loved ones.

3. Institute a National BAME Memorial Day. Set a day (Windrush Day on 22nd June) for the BAME community to remember their loved ones and friends within a Christian context, to come and share their grief for their loved ones.

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