“By the rivers of Babylon where we sat down, we cried as we remembered Zion”
Some of you ( of a similar age to me) are now thinking cheesy 70’s disco and in particular the musical musings of a certain Boney M, if you are not familiar with it go look on YouTube, others will know this relates to a lament sung by the Jewish people banished into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon, the psalm deals with their yearning to be back in Jerusalem, for things to return to the way they were, to get life back to normal. The psalm asks the question how they can sing a song of praise to God when they are dwelling in such a strange land.
I can’t help noticing the parallels to the situation we find ourselves in today, we may not have physically moved to a strange land but in every other sense that it what we are experiencing right now. The world we knew only a couple of weeks ago has gone, the world of coffee shops and restaurants, of football matches and church services, of human contact hugs and kisses its gone and we all yearn for the things we all took for granted to return.
The world we live in now one of fear and anxiety, we gaze at out mobile screens sucking in all the news of the day; we are worried for our families, for our own wellbeing for our livelihoods. We (especially us Brits) use humour as a way of dealing with the situation, sometimes gallows humour as is our ilk. We share good news stories wherever we can. However what we really long for is answers, solutions an escape from Babylon a return to the familiarity of the Jerusalem we all once knew and took for granted.
For church leaders there is a desire to provide the answers, in some ways we have set ourselves up for this, we like to portray a confidence and we perceive to not be confident is to reveal weakness or even dare I say a lack of faith. We have grown up in a church that embraces the modern teachings of rationalism and romanticism. To put it simply we are required to either produce the answer or the balm like pulling rabbits out of hats. As the theologian NT Wright explains in his recent piece in Time magazine rationalists want explanations, romantics want the sigh of relief.
In our modern Christian tradition and expression there is little or no thought given to lament however 70% of the Psalms, Gods own hymn book is made up of Laments, yet we tend to shy away from this in the modern world. Perhaps now is the time to lament alongside a hurting world. To express our sorrow and grief . However when we do that we do it in the understanding that our deliverance will also come, as we cry out to God we do not do so in defeat but in the real hope that God will not only lament alongside us but also deliver us from our current situation.
The Folk singer and fellow Welshman Martin Joseph while working through his own faith journey commented that sometimes we just need to treasure the question, we need to have a change of mind set that lamenting our situation is not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith, take these examples from the Psalms. Be gracious to me Lord” psalm 6 says “for I am languishing, oh Lord heal me for my bones are shaking with terror” there are more “psalm 13 asks “how long oh Lord, will you forget me forever” the Psalms are overflowing with laments.
As we allow laments to flow from us we become fused even closer to a loving and Real God, we may not have the answers but we have hope. Again that out of our lament, out of our exile will come new possibilities, new acts of kindness and sacrifice, new scientific breakthroughs and advancements. In fact one day we will sing a new song again.