Do you mourn over the loss of in-person church services? If so, you’re not alone. But my question is actually more about the mourning. The process. The reasons why you mourn. That’s because the Bible actually gives us lessons, of a sort, on how and why to mourn. They’re in one of those Old Testament books that we don’t really like to read.
Lamentations is all about mourning. Grieving. All the gory details of what happened to Jerusalem, Judah, Zion, the Israelites when they were defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and sent into exile.
I believe they can help us today as well,
with COVID and the loss of in-person church services.
No, that’s not happening today. Although, I did write a piece titled, Is Covid-19 a modern-day Exile?
And even though many scholars say Lamentations was specific to the Old Testament exile and there’s little, if anything, for us today, I believe that’s selling God short. Think about it. As Christians, we believe all Scripture was God-breathed. Everything in our Bible is there for a reason. And history, even if it has no other possible reason, is always there as a warning for us.
Remember the saying, “those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it”. Even Paul gave us a version of that, in his first letter to the church in Corinth.
1Co 10:1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
1Co 10:6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
1Co 10:11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
I dare say then, we should, if nothing else, learn from what’s written in Lamentation. For example, how the Israelites mourned their loss after their homes, and even God’s “home – the Temple, were destroyed. It’s an example of Godly mourning. Like God “approved” grieving. A template, of sorts. Not unlike a longer version of some of David’s Psalms.
Much of the basis for what I’m going to write here is based on Grief and Pain in the Plan of God: Christian Assurance and the Message of Lamentations, by Walter Kaiser Jr. His book was all about the actual exile. I’m going to take some of the concepts he used to break down the text of Lamentation into logical groups of verses. But then I’m going to apply them to what’s happening today, in America and other countries in the world, related to our mourning over the loss of in-person church services.
Mourning over the loss of in-person church services
Walter Kaiser Jr. gives four elements of grief Kaiser, W. C., Jr. (2004). Grief and pain in the plan of God: christian assurance and the message of Lamentations. Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications. in the first chapter of Lamentations. They are:
- Loneliness, caused by not having in-person church services – verses 1-7
- The Causes, obviously COVID, but is there something more – verses 8-11
- The Purposes behind COVID and the resulting loss of in-person church services – verses 12-17
- The Confessions, if any are warranted, based on the Causes and Purposes – verses 18-22
Questions about the loss of in-person church services
Please note, there were a number of conditions in the preceding list. That may seem odd, but it does make sense if we think about it. Lamentations was written about and because of the defeat of Israel and the subsequent exile. With the COVID scenario and the resulting loss of in-person church services, that direct relationship doesn’t apply.
However, while there won’t be a direct one-to-one relationship between the events and mourning resulting from the exile, there will be lessons to learn for COVID and the events coming as a result of the virus. Therefore, as we go through the verses in Lamentations Chapter 1, we must first determine the relevance. Then we will apply both the realities and the perceptions related to mourning over the loss of in-person church services to each of the four elements of grief above.
The goal is to see two things. First, how much of our current mourning is actually related to the claim that we’ve lost the ability to worship God. Secondly, depending on what we find in step 1, relate the current situation to the Old Testament Exile.
Introduction to examining Mourning over the loss of in-person church services
I really believe this is an important topic. We should always look closely at why we do things. Compare our actions, the reasons why we do them, and what the Bible says. Then, we should pray to God over all of that. It’s just what David did, as we read in his numerous Psalms.
David started with praise to God. Then he writes about what was happening. He’d have a response to God about that. Maybe thanks, maybe asking God where are you, maybe sorrow, and maybe just showing depression over the current state of things. And then He’d end with praise.
But then, there was an implied request in his Psalms as well. David didn’t write the Psalms just for the sake of writing. He did it to communicate with God. Two-way communication. That was very clearly spelled out, as in the end of Psalm 139. I include the entire Psalm below so you can see the structure. But for this particular point, notice especially verses 23 and 24, at the end.
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
Ps 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
Ps 139:2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
Ps 139:3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Ps 139:4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
Ps 139:5 You hem me in—behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
Ps 139:6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Ps 139:7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
Ps 139:8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
Ps 139:9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
Ps 139:10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
Ps 139:11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
Ps 139:12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Ps 139:13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Ps 139:14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Ps 139:15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Ps 139:16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Ps 139:17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Ps 139:18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you.
Ps 139:19 If only you would slay the wicked, O God!
Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!
Ps 139:20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
Ps 139:21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD,
and abhor those who rise up against you?
Ps 139:22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
Ps 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Ps 139:24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
You may wonder, where is the praise at the beginning and the end. It’s not explicit. However, it is there. We need to consider what David’s asking, and then we can see it.
First off, just David’s request for God to search him says that God has the ability to do exactly that. Believing God can do that is praise. Writing it is praise. When we see how complete God’s ability to know David is, that’s also praise.
And then, when we get to the end, David is asking God to tell him the results of His search. More praise, especially when we realize that David fully expects a response. Not only that, but a response that will return and / or keep David “in the way everlasting”.
The process of examining Mourning over the loss of in-person church services
So we’ll go through each of the four elements of grief, using Psalm 39 as an outline, praying those last verses as we go, and see what we find.
Of course, this is from my reference point. With my current walk with God. With my experiences and my current life. As we go, you must examine everything with your life. My life isn’t yours. However, the Bible is for all of us. In giving my point of view, I’m not telling you how you must or should live. What I am doing, I pray, is giving you an outlive to follow, some examples, and assistance in reaching your own conclusions. Of course, all of our conclusions should be reached in prayer and with the Word of God as a foundation.
So – over the next several days, I hope to be able to write up and publish each of the four elements. Rather than make this one really long article, I’ll do them one at a time. Of course, the “danger” with that approach is that I (or you) may change my thinking along the way.
Oftentimes, I think I know where something’s going to go. How it’s going to end up. But along the way, I get pointed to things I didn’t think about. Sometimes I read what I wrote when I’m done and wonder, where did that come from? I think that’s when we really can get an idea that we’re being led by the Spirit, instead of trying to lead the Holy Spirit. Remember, Jesus shouldn’t be our pilot, but our copilot. Please check out Jesus is my co-pilot? for more on that thought.
In any case, we’ll see where this goes and how it ends up.
So please, come back for the rest of the series – if it’s not all here yet when you’re reading. You can also subscribe using the box towards the top right – or probably at the bottom on a cell phone – if you’d like to be notified when more is posted here.
There will probably be either five or six articles when it’s done. This one. Four, one for each of the elements of grief. And maybe a final one to wrap it all up, but that depends on whether it’s needed after writing the first five.
There is one thing I do want to point out up front though. Regardless of what else ends up getting written, I do expect this to be a message of hope. As with David’s Psalms, we always have God’s promise to look forward to.
Jn 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Hope to “see” you along the way – and in our Father’s house!
|↑1||Kaiser, W. C., Jr. (2004). Grief and pain in the plan of God: christian assurance and the message of Lamentations. Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications.|