Our hearts and prayers go out today to the families and friends of the mass shooting in Las Vegas that happened last evening.
It’s difficult to process news on days like today. Where can we even collectively begin to express our sympathy and grief? As the reports continue to pour in from eye-witnesses, law enforcement, and the news media, intense feelings can easily overwhelm even the strongest among us.
In all honesty, church history isn’t the first place those of us who follow Christ typically turn during times of hardship. Or if it is, the folks who choose that route aren’t in my inner circle! However, as I’m deep into study of the Reformation this month, I see so many lessons from Martin Luther (one of the key figures from this time period in history) about how to process pain and suffering.
Luther wasn’t a stranger to pain and suffering. He experienced isolation from his community and family (he was ex-communicated from the church and estranged from his family), he was impacted deeply when his young children died, he experienced a variety of mental and physical health challenges and he was financially insecure for most of his working life. All while he worked to reform the Christian church from top to bottom.
There are many things one can learn from a study of Mr. Luther’s life and legacy and the lessons I draw today by no means make up a complete list. I see that the three lessons I mention below offer practical advice that allows those of us who are suffering in the present.
Lesson 1: suffering invites expression
Luther didn’t hesitate to express his feelings of disappointment, disillusionment, depression or any other emotion that felt hard. He saw suffering not as a topic to be avoided, but a chance to express the Gospel. The word “lament” means to “show or express grief” and for Luther, Christian expression of grief allows the sufferer to identify with and point to Christ.
“Christian suffering is nobler and precious above all other human sufferings because, since Christ himself suffered, he also hallowed the suffering of all his Christians.” ― Martin Luther
The temptation in many Christian circles is to put on what I call “masks of fine.” We feel pressure to keep our deep emotions and feelings of grief contained and show everyone around us how well we’re doing. Luther teaches us that there’s no need to spend all the mental energy it takes to keep that mask on. In Christ, we who suffer have freedom to express our “not fine-ness” in lament.
Lesson 2: suffering invites study
A second lesson we might learn from Luther is that we can allow tragedies and difficult circumstances to lead us back to the Word of God. Not because we’re looking for short and quick single-verse answers to difficult problems, but because the text provides the vocabulary we require to lament. A full 1/3 of the book of Psalms consists of what scholars call “the psalms of lament.”
“… the Psalter is the book of all saints; and everyone, in whatever situation he may be, finds in that situation psalms and words that fit his case, that suit him as if they were put there just for his sake, so that he could not put it better himself, or find or wish for anything better.” ― Martin Luther
When suffering is intense and there are no words, the Word of God provides the language we need to take our every concern back to God. We can literally pray God’s Word back to God.
Click here for an online list of Psalms of lament.
Lesson 3: suffering invites song
Songs of lament have been used throughout history to cope with difficult life circumstances and Martin Luther was a big believer in the power of music to lift souls.
“My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.” ― Martin Luther
Music often goes where no other collection of words can, and it’s a wonderful gift given to us God’s people. When times are hard and grief threatens to overwhelm, the sufferer can turn to songs for comfort.
We invite you to consider this playlist for lament when you feel the need:
We welcome suggestions for the playlist. If you have a song or two you’d like us to add, please comment below with a link.
Finally, we leave you today with a prayer for all who suffer and grieve following gun violence:
“Thus says Yahweh: a voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and bitter weeping. Rachel, weeping for her children, refuses to be comforted, for her children are no more.”
God, comforter of the broken and disheartened, We come to you plagued with an agonized grief after yet one more outbreak of senseless gun violence.
We come to you, from the East to the West, from the North to the South, people of all ages, ethnicities, and walks of life.
We represent one voice, the voice of bitter weeping echoing throughout our cities and resounding in communities throughout the world.
As violence abounds, we sit in the darkness, sitting alongside the suffering on the mourner’s bench.
We are Rachel, mourning with wordless sobs, the lives of those sacrificed on the altar of violence.
We are Rachel, weeping for the wounded, for those whose minds and bodies are etched with painful memories of men’s unjustifiable rage.
We are Rachel, lamenting with the families who have lost loved ones whose cries of despair join with those from tragedies of gun violence.
We are Rachel, perplexed with troubled souls, and searching for answers, seeking to understand what would cause humans to inflict pain on their fellow sisters and brothers.
We are Rachel, exasperated, grasping—crying out, “How long, O God?” How long will this wave of violence consume your people?
Over the next 31 days (as part of the #Write31Days online challenge), we’ll be unpacking what the Reformation means for our faith community here on our blog. We hope you’ll join us as we take a walk through history, apply what we’re learning to our lives today and ponder what it all means as we move together into our future.
Save the date: October 29! We’ll celebrate the Reformation and the confirmation of 7 young people in our community with one service at 10:00 a.m. Our synod bishop will preach and we’ll follow the service with an Oktoberfest celebration. Come for the service, stay for the German food, beer and wine (for a donation), a hymn sing and lots of fun!