“Into the Light: Finding Hope Through Prayers of Lament”
Lesson 9: The end of lament
Isaiah 25:6-10; Revelation 21:1-8
Revelation 21:1-8 has long been a favorite Scripture of mine. The promise of a time when there would be no more tears, pain, mourning or crying strikes a longing that we carry deep within us. The words rise up with hope like a flag unfurled, caught and borne up by the wind.
Hope is desire and expectation of something new. Hope can be made of dreams, love, forgiveness and friendships. South African bishop Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see the light despite all the darkness.”
There has been lots of darkness, heaviness and a shroud of anxiety over the world this past year. It has been difficult to see the light in the face of tremendous loss: personal loss when we are long absent from friends and family; job losses; anguish when loved ones have died during the pandemic; and national unease as our lives have been upended. We have felt adrift and lonely. We have seen the calls for justice that erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s death. We have mourned as our nation remains terribly divided politically.
Contrary to the vision of God’s time when mourning and tears shall cease, we know how unjust our society is. Racial equality can seem an impossible task given our four centuries of not counting brown and Black people as fully human. Because of the pandemic, one in four children do not know where their next meal will come from. Before the pandemic, it was one in seven children in the United States. The gap between the very wealthy and the rest of us grows tremendously year by year. In the face of our deep problems, we may see no solutions, become cynical or blame the poor for their problems. God’s promise of the time when every tear is dried and all people sit together at a sumptuous banquet might strike us as a pipe dream.
I asked a friend how Revelation 21:1-7 affects her faith. She responded that she always couples the Revelation text with Isaiah 65:17-25, in which God creates a new city where “no child is born for calamity,” the elderly can live out their days in peace and people receive the fruits of their labors. My friend said that the concrete vision of a city that functions well for everyone gives her hope as she works for a more just society.
Biblically, hope is based upon God’s faithfulness. We hope because we have found God to be faithful. This hope is not a wish or a dream. It is an expectation that God who has healed, redeemed, saved and made us whole will do so again. When has God been faithful in your life? What were the circumstances?
I have heard many rich stories of the ways that God has touched lives. The Holy Spirit has appeared in a song on the radio, on a billboard, through Scripture or in a conversation with a stranger. God has sustained folk during joblessness and the death of loved ones. God has rescued addicts and those with eating disorders. The Spirit has led us into justice ministries that, with people of different races and classes, address root problems of poverty. God has called us to use our artistic gifts to make God’s Word come alive for children and adults. (If you want hear some wonderful stories of God’s rescue and healing, check out the Netflix documentary “Voices of Fire.”)
We are called to “live into hope,” the hope of the end of oppression, of “captives freed from chains of fear or want or greed,” as Jane Parker Huber wrote in the hymn “Live into Hope.” To live into hope is to live with the vision of God’s will being done on earth now. It is living in the promises of God so that we are energized to work for healing, justice and mercy. It is trusting God to bring good out of evil
“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” cited in our study, is known as the Black national anthem. It is a testament to both the brutal past and to our deeply compassionate God. The bitter chastening rod was part of the past “when unborn hope had died.” The road has been watered with tears and stained with “the blood of the slaughtered.” Nevertheless, God is praised as the one who has stood with the enslaved and oppressed, seeing their silent tears. God is the one who “hast by thy might, led us into the light.” The hymn ends with a prayer to continue walking God’s path for our lives. To this prayer, let us all say: “Amen. So be it.”
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