Ideas for Including Lament in Your Worship
There are many worship planning resources available on the Internet—some better than others. One site you may want to spend some time on is http://worshiphelps.blogs.com (see RW 80). We have culled the following practical ideas from three different blog entries.
Where to Put the Lament
After being persuaded that we need to be more serious about lament in our worship, we have been struggling with where to put it in the service. There seems to be no natural place in our order of service where it “fits.” Then someone at a planning meeting suggested we replace the confession one week with a lament—not to avoid our own sin, but to recognize that our personal sin is caught up in the brokenness of the whole world. We lament then, and say not so much “I have messed up” but “I am messed up.”
But then there is another difficulty: what is the appropriate response to lament? After a confession, we long to hear words of God’s forgiveness: “As far as the east is from the west, so far do I remove your transgressions from you.” This doesn’t seem quite right when we’re talking about racism and environmental degradation and cancer.
But a declaration of God’s ultimate sovereignty is exactly right—it follows the biblical pattern (see, for instance, Ps. 42 or 43), and it assures us (just as an assurance of pardon does) that in the end all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.
During this past Lenten season my congregation made space in the liturgy, just after the call to worship and before the communal prayer of confession, for testimony from members of the congregation. The tradition of offering public testimony has faded from many mainline congregations, especially those committed to liturgical worship. The Presbyterian congregation (PCUSA) I am currently serving as a temporary supply pastor is very much committed to classical forms of worship, but wanted to find a way to recover the tradition of testimony in ways consonant with that form of worship.
Here’s what we did: During Lent we focused on the ways in which Jesus violates our expectations. Each week someone from the congregation offered a reflection on how God had worked unexpectedly in his or her life, on ways in which God had violated expectations about what a good life ought to be. Testimonies lasted no more than two minutes, each one beginning and ending with the phrase, “The light shined in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” We created a “Lenten wreath” similar to an Advent wreath, except that instead of lighting one candle each week we extinguished one after each testimony (see p. 29). By Passion Sunday, the wreath was as dark as a sealed tomb.
Members shared stories about the death of a child, the pain of divorce, and the fear of rejection. In the midst of a loving, supportive congregation, we learned to be honest and vulnerable with each other.
Lament in the Interrogative Mood (Ron Rienstra)
Most often prayers of lament in worship are corporate rather than individual. The harsh language of the psalmic lament is difficult for most individuals to appropriate in their own devotional lives. We have somehow learned that asking questions of God is irreverent, especially if those questions have a rebuking tone. But the psalms teach us that such questions are a central part of a relationship with God, and Scripture as a whole teaches us that God can probably handle our mild rants once in a while.
One interesting way to encourage folks to pray prayers of lament (whether publicly or privately) is to prompt the prayers with an interrogative word such as why or where or when or how long. (The phrase how long, in fact, is used more than twenty times in the psalms alone.) This way, our prayers for peace in the Middle East, for example, are not merely petitions for wise leadership; they become expressions of our own helplessness: “When, O Lord, will your children in the Middle East stop firing rockets at one another?”
The following is a short devotional service based on this idea. It embeds the prayer of lament within both a sung Kyrie and a concluding Alleluia. It also contextualizes the prayer—both the lament and the declaration of God’s ultimate sovereignty—as continuous with the “words of the faithful in all times and places.”
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
The reign of God is coming.
We wait, we hope, we believe.
The reign of God is here.
We see the signs:
in the street
in our homes
among the nations.
The reign of God is coming.
We cry out in longing,
for the day of the fulfillment
is not yet here.
Sing: Kyrie eleison
Scripture Reading: Psalm 13:1-4
Prayers of Lament
At this time prayers of lament can be offered freely. You may wish to begin prayers with “Why . . .,” “Where . . .,” or “How long . . .”
Sing: Kyrie eleison
Scripture Reading: Psalm 13:5-6
Lament in Reformed Worship
Do you want to reflect further on the place of lament in worship? For resources of this topic, look to your own RW collection, or check out the back issues on the RW website (www.reformedworship.org). I typed “lament” into the search field and got no fewer than 93 links, including the following:
- RW 72: “Pain Is a Four-Letter Word: A Congregational Lament”—Calvin G. Seerveld
- RW 70: “A Time to Mourn: Shepherding God’s People Through Grief”—Robert C. DeVries and Susan J. Zonnebelt-Smeenge
- RW 46: “A Time to Weep on Good Friday”—John D. Witvliet
- RW 44: “A Time to Weep: Liturgical Lament in Times of Crisis”—John D. Witvliet
- RW 38: “How Could God Let This Happen?”—L’Anni Hill-Alto
- RW 30: “The Friday Voice of Faith: A Serious Theology of the Cross Requires a Serious Practice of the Lament Psalms”—Walter Brueggemann