Walking Through Woe

This was not the way Sunday morning was supposed to begin—the empty-pit feeling in the stomach, the sweat beading on the brow, the pulse in the ears, and tunnel vision. Sundays are a day of promise, anticipation, and peace, notwithstanding the multiple times we have to ask, “Have you brushed your teeth yet?” Sundays are the Lord’s Day, a celebration of the power of grace over sin and death.

But on Sunday, February 15, 2015, I stared at my smartphone, and the headline stared back—“ISIS Video Appears to Show Beheadings of Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya.” My wife saw the look on my face, reached for the phone, and covered her mouth. Silence settled between us. We held our breath.

It was a sunny day, above freezing, as I recall. But at our house of worship in the wake of that news, an icy, inky blackness settled over our tiny congregation. We gathered in solemn assembly and lamented the loss of the 21 brothers who held fast to the cross of Christ, even as their souls slid into eternity. We called them martyrs, choked back tears, and thanked God for the gift of their unwavering testimony. How beautiful indeed are those who do not shrink from death to proclaim the good news.

I did not know these 21 men, yet a deep grief settled over me. It was, perhaps, my first experience with true Spirit-led lamentation. Though I was acquainted with the concept in theory and even had a passing familiarity with the corpus of lamentations contained within Scripture, I’d somehow bypassed feeling the weight of these kinds of sorrows. And now, just over one year later, I’m ashamed to admit that it took these grisly slayings to lead me into a deeper practice and understanding of the spiritual value of lamentation.

In today’s religious milieu, there are some who avoid the notion of grief. They paint smiling faces on every life circumstance, promising that positivity is next to godliness and happiness is a byproduct of both. God wants you to have your best life. To be successful. To enjoy the fruits of your labor. It’s a beautiful sentiment—even if naïve to the broken facts of this busted world—but its scriptural foundation is thin. In fact, it is an anti-Christ message, one that has no basis in the life of our Jesus, the ultimate suffering servant.

God wants you to have your best life. It’s a beautiful sentiment—even if naïve to the broken facts of this busted world—but its scriptural foundation is thin.

Lament is a core tenet of Christian theology. Christ, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (Phil. 2:6). Instead, He humbled Himself and experienced birth, death, and the full panoply of human emotions. And though He entered Jerusalem on the Sunday before His crucifixion to the praise of jubilant throngs, He saw through the crowds and lamented the current state of affairs.

It was the week of His crucifixion, and the scribes and Pharisees approached Jesus, asking entrapping questions, murder in their hearts. Jesus, fully man and fully God, could have shamed them with a single word, could have knocked them from their high horses, stricken them blind and obliterated them. Instead, He entered into the human experience of lamentation: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people … Woe to you, blind guides” (Matt. 23:13, Matt. 23:16).

“Woe … woe … woe … woe ...” (Matt. 23:23; Matt 23:25; Matt 23:27; Matt 23:29).

I’ve read these words of Jesus countless times, and they hang heavy. And though there is a sense in which Jesus is pronouncing judgment over the religious leaders of the day, His deep lamentation over the hardness of their hearts is  palpable. “Woe,” He says—a qualitative measurement of His own deep sorrow: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling! Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!”  (Matt. 23:37-38).

Even Jesus—knowing that the great gospel ending of the resurrection was the capstone of the world’s greatest story—continued His march to Friday, deep sorrow shut up in His bones.

See our Christ lamenting the heartsickness that misleads the people and which will lead to His own death?

And as Jesus leaves this confrontation with the religious leaders, He continues to carry heartfelt woe into the Passion Week. He speaks to the disciples about the coming tribulation, the division that will occur in His name, and the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:1-28). Can you hear the weight of lamentation, the heaviness in His words? Even Jesus—knowing that the great gospel ending of the resurrection was the capstone of the world’s greatest story—continued His march to Friday, deep sorrow shut up in His bones.

There is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the eve of the great reckoning. He is on the razor’s edge, the dividing line of history. His disciples have followed Him to the garden of prayer, and Christ says, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me” (Matt. 26:38). You might see His tears, His fear and lamentation as He prays, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matt 26:39). If there is anything the week of Christ’s Passion teaches us, it’s that Jesus did not bypass lamentation in order to attain the glory of God. Instead, He stepped into the pain and sorrow of the human experience, lamentation in His heart and on His lips.

It’s Easter, a season ultimately marked by resurrection joy and glorious hymns of victory. And though it might be tempting to ignore the sorrows of earth—the plight of the people led astray, persecuted, or martyred—let’s emulate our Christ. Sit and soak in the weight of this broken world and offer prayers born from deep lamentation. After all, it’s only in walking through this kind of woe that we truly experience the fullness  of Christ’s life and the joy of Resurrection Sunday.

 

Illustration by Tim McDonagh

Related Topics:  Grief

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6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

13 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

16 Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.'

23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.

27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.

29 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,

37 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

38 Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!

1 Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him.

2 And He said to them, Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down."

3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"

4 And Jesus answered and said to them, See to it that no one misleads you.

5 For many will come in My name, saying, `I am the Christ,' and will mislead many.

6 You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.

7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.

8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

9 Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.

10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.

11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.

12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.

13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

15 Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),

16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.

17 Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house.

18 Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak.

19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!

20 But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.

21 For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.

22 Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

23 Then if anyone says to you, `Behold, here is the Christ,' or `There He is, ' do not believe him.

24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.

25 Behold, I have told you in advance.

26 So if they say to you, `Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go out, or, `Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them.

27 For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

38 Then He said to them, My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me."

39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will."

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