A while back I read Debra and Ron Rienstra’s book, Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry. Their use of the old wedding day tradition of “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue” was interesting as a framework for their book, but it did make a point that I thought was significant for the church today. Under “something blue,” they highlight the importance of lament in worship.
The question for our purposes, though, is how can we teach people this truth in worship? How can we teach people that sorrow and lament are part of Christian devotion, part of Christian life? The Psalms are full of longing, desperation, pain, brokenness – voices crying out from dark places in which God seems far away. The Psalms and many other places in Scripture teach us that God can handle our anger, pain, and doubt; the Bible gives us not only permission but invitation to lament.Worship Words, p. 222
They go on to remind us that every Sunday, there are people who will come into worship who hurting, confused, or grieving. How will we make room for them to offer that pain up to God and to express it as part of the Christian life? Add to that the brokenness of the world around us and the all too frequent tragedies that we experience and everyone comes to worship with something that they mourn or something that has hurt them.
Oftentimes in worship we want to focus on being uplifted. Songs are upbeat and messages are inspiring – the atmosphere is one of celebrating and rejoicing. And rightly so – each Sunday is a mini-Easter, a remembrance of the central event in Christianity: the death and resurrection of Jesus for us. But while there should be an element of rejoicing what God has done for us in worship, we need to carve out space for lament in worship. It teaches more fully the Christian experience because it’s not all sunshine and butterflies here on earth. Jesus said that while we’re following Him here, we’re taking up a cross. Yes, we have victory in Jesus but that victory will not be fully realized until His return. Until then, cancer still strikes, we’ll get laid off unexpectedly, relationships will struggle and fall apart, and death will come for us and those we love. In Christ’s resurrection, we know that those things aren’t the end, but until the end, they’re a part of this life that we have to contend with.
Lent is a perfect season to think about lament in worship because Lent is a season of lament. As each week comes and we focus more and more clearly on the cross, seeing Jesus take the nails and thorns for us and lay down His life, it’s not just for our sins that He died – it’s for all of the brokenness in this world that He died. And in rising again, He has established His power and authority over all of the brokenness of this world – including you and me.
I encourage you to find ways this Lenten season to highlight lament in worship. It doesn’t need to be some new element of worship shoehorned in; it can simply be highlighting an element of lament in what you’re already doing.
For instance, as I set up our time of confession and forgiveness in worship, I’ll often talk for a moment about how we’re all coming together from different experiences in the past week or so. Some of us had a great week last week and we can’t wait for Monday so we can do it all again. But others of us might be coming off of the worst week we’ve ever had. Whether we’re here to thank God for the great things that He did in our lives last week or we’re holding on to the end of our rope wondering how much worse it can get, Jesus meets us there – indeed He’s been walking with us through it all – and He invites us to confess and be forgiven.
Songs can do this beautifully, too. Lord I Need You (Tomlin) or Waiting Here for You (Nockles) are a couple of modern examples that come immediately to mind. Hymns like It Is Well With My Soul or When I Survey the Wondrous Cross echo different aspects of lament as well.
This Lenten season, find ways to highlight lament in worship. Make space for lament and see how people respond. You may find that it’s a very beneficial aspect of worship together that is underutilized today.