Pastor's Corner | February 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
Grace and peace to you in Jesus' matchless name.
At the beginning of a new year or a new month, we generally take time to thank God for all the good things that happened to us, and for God’s providence in getting us through the month or the year that has gone by. I am sure we do that in our Sunday worship services, and also in our own personal lives. Expressing gratitude for the love and faithfulness of God is certainly important. For the most part, we at the First Presbyterian Church are good at creating space and making time in our worship to express our gratitude to God.
However, we know that not all things went well for us last year. We have all experienced hurt, setbacks, failures, and losses in some form or the other. For instance, we have lost members in our congregation due to Covid and other reasons. With every death that happens in our congregation, we all experience grief. Some of you might have expressed death or loss of relationship in your close circles. What do we do with our grief? Do we have adequate space and language in our weekly worship and personal prayers to express our personal grief? As we watch the daily news, and witness the pain and suffering of people due to poverty, refugee crisis, injustice, hate, discrimination, and violence, how do we handle the grief and pain that comes with witnessing them? In our Sunday worship services, we are yet to create a space and find a language, apart from prayers of intercession, to adequately express our grief and sorrow. Therefore, I would like to share a brief thought on “Lament as Language of Faith.” It is my hope that we will be able to find ways of incorporating this language of faith in our personal lives and in our corporate worship services for our own growth and healing.
Interestingly, the Jews of the Old Testament times knew this language of faith so well that they composed songs of lament and used them in their personal and corporate prayers during times of grief and loss. I would like to draw your attention to four elements of the Language of Faith that we can find in Psalm 13, a song of Lament.
Lament is an expression of Faith in God: There is a general understanding among Christians that lamenting is a sign of lack of faith. On the contrary, Psalm 13:1 points to the fact that Lament is an expression of faith because the Lament is addressed to God. In Psalm 13:1, the psalmist begins by addressing God, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” The very fact, that the psalmist chose to talk to God about his or her pain, instead of turning their back to God, is an indication of their strong belief that God listens to their Lament.
Lament is Freedom of expression before God: In Psalm 13: 2, the psalmist complains to God, saying: “How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” The psalmist takes liberty not only to express his or her anger and frustration but also to honestly identify the pain and questions that rage in one’s soul when injustice happens.
Lament is Seeking God’s help: The psalmist cries out, “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken” (Psalm 13:3–4). Instead of submerging into silence and despair, lament opens up the space to dare to hope in God’s goodness, and seek God’s help.
Lament renews Hope: As a result of walking up the first three steps of Lament, so to speak, the psalmist is now in a place to choose hope through trust in God. In Psalm 13:5-6, the psalmist says, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:5–6).”
Like the stages of grief, which people go through in cycles before they come to terms with their loss, the Language of Lament helps a person to navigate through the brokenness of life and renew their commitment and trust in God.
Dearly beloved, what are your griefs, fears, and sorrows? You don’t have to hide them behind your tears. Use the Language of Lament to express your feelings to God in faith. Use lament to seek God’s help. Lament not only serves the purpose of catharsis but also brings healing and renews hope.
February is Black History month. Lament is a suitable language of repentance for this nation’s painful history of slavery. It is also a fitting language of prayer as we intercede for justice and equality for our Black siblings in Christ who continue to face discrimination. Lament is also the language of faith that gives hope that justice and peace will one day become a reality not only in this nation but all over the world when we truly lament and boldly practice Christ’s love.
As Christians, we believe in a God who laments over people’s sin. We believe in Jesus Christ who wept at his friend’s grave. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the comforter, who intercedes with God on our behalf when we don’t have the language to mourn. Therefore, our Triune God is the supreme example for us to lament. We can lament also because we believe in a God who is sovereign, good, and has power to deliver. We believe in the cross of Jesus where God shared the suffering of humanity. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus and newness of life in him. I encourage you to boldly lament. Write down the things that grieve your heart. Compose a song or a poem or a prayer of lament. Sing it alone or read it to your friend. If you wish to share with me, I would be happy to read it and pray with you.
I wish you healing and wholeness as you practice to speak this language of faith.
Rev. Vinod I. Gnanaraj.
About Our Pastor
Rev. Vinod Immanuel Gnanaraj is the installed pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Caledonia. He perceives his pastoral ministry as a calling to build communities of faith in Jesus Christ and help Christians of all age groups to live out the gospel of Christ in the community.
Prior to becoming the pastor of this church, Vinod served for over two decades in several ministerial settings including Hospital Chaplaincy, Youth and Children’s ministry, Administration of Christian Mission Organization, Teaching Faculty of Theological Seminary, and Pastoral Ministry in India and the USA.
During his free time, Vinod loves to meet people, learn about history and culture, visit historical places, enjoy great food, listen to contemporary Christian music, and spend time with his family. He has a Master’s degree in Accountancy, Bachelor of Divinity, Master of Theology (specializing in pastoral counseling), and is pursuing a PhD in Pastoral Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary.