Monday, March 23, 2009

Unsanitzed Prayer and Preaching

The theology of lament and its expression is gritty and bloody. It is not a dialogical utterance sanitized by a disciplined will, which attempts to do any cleansing of its own. Pastoral care and the church’s liturgy ought to let God be God in his preaching and lamenting of creation. Likewise, the church’s lament should be permitted to stand, in its disorientation, in its unattractiveness, along with the piercing shriek that attends it. Furthermore, it is ok for the despair of disorientation to exist in the daily life of the congregation, to be suspended and attended to by the preaching and prayers of the church.

The word of God is not spoken and received in perpetual and harmonious bliss. The creature who wrestles against God still encounters affliction – still encounters the speaking of God’s law, which comes by way of a devastating obliteration of the human self-justifying will. In keeping with the Lutheran tradition of prayerfully distinguishing between law and gospel, the pastor’s task remains to diagnostically and prescriptively apply these two fundamental words. However, the pastoral and liturgical care of lament ought not simplistically equate law with disorientation and likewise the gospel with orientation. The living God is not bifurcated down the middle into two wills – this law and gospel, but speaks rather one will, that “thy will be one,” and “deliver us from evil.” These relationships work more dynamically and are resolved teleologically in God’s work, rather than man’s theological apprehension. And the first and final act is God’s work in Christ, in which the gospel is located in the disorientation and forsakenness in atonement. Only through the preaching of the atonement and resurrection can the pastor truly preach “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28).

The dialogical procession of lament, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” works out law and gospel in the life of the church – the lamenting community. Furthermore, this speech act of lament is authorian and creative speech that hands over the disorientation of sinful humanity into Christ’s passion, in which he becomes its bearer. In this blessed exchange humanities’ sonship is claimed by the handing over of Christ and his righteousness and life to His dear bride. The atonement is therefore not merely expressed in the imagematic language of lament and its drama, but rather its giveness is created and handed over to the church by way of gift through lament. Christ’s eternal confession of “my God!” in the hell of forsakenness – in the drinking of this cup of hell is the confession given and granted through the church’s ears and passed on through her lips. That God is for me, that God desires me and wants to be mine is found in its fullness in this linguistic Trinitarian drama, that God himself makes a grave with the wicked of the earth, to be raised and justify the many.

The promissory performance is that God laments for his creation and joyfully condescends in flesh to court his lover and lead her to baptismal waters. Only in divine condescension, through crucifixion, resurrection, and forgiveness of sin can one speak of a “relationship” with God that is oriented and open toward and for creation and neighbor. The relation is that God has surely done it and built the house of the lamenting community of the church, by raising up a son that he might tear the curtain and lay claim upon his creation in violent communion and divine mercy.

The Lutheran Pastor will face continued pressure to become a cheap tool for furthering the demonic creeds of personal self empowerment and fulfillment. He must speak honestly about the nature of suffering, which no human will or intellect can overcome. The tension between experience and promise must be met in the lament which can call a thing what it really is. For even the richest and orienting theology of vocation and cross cannot by necessity escape the disorienting theology of lament. The church must honestly speak the language of lament making a home in the Psalter, which provides the very vocabulary to navigate the spiritual life of God’s past, present, and future work.

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