Father, forgive them for they know not what they do: [Retrieve Lament 2019]

This post completes the forty days of Lent Daybook posts for 2018 and begins a week of guest posts for Holy Week. Would you read the stories with me, and listen with an open, prayerful heart?

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories of lament I'll be sharing here this Holy Week.

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “’f you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
— Luke 23:33-37 (ESV)



A few years ago, I woke up on Palm Sunday thinking about the images I’d seen of Christ entering the palm-waving crowds in Jerusalem. I jotted down the thoughts before I forgot them: 

  • If I've ever returned home after a long time gone, to people who might no longer recognize the real me, maybe it felt a bit like that.

  • If I’ve ever felt I was loved only on the condition I met everyone else's expectations and ideals, maybe it felt a little bit like that. 

  • If I've ever felt completely alone in the middle of a cheery crowd, it might be a bit of what Christ experienced on his ride into town. 

  • If I've ever thought loving these people might just be the death of me, well, maybe it felt a bit like that.

  • If I've ever chosen to forgive the same ones I knew full well would need forgiveness again and would never know the cost of the forgiveness and never be able to fully restore to me what they stole, then I might be able to identify with the look in Christ's eyes headed into that heartbreaking city.

And I might be able to echo his prayer a few days later when this same crowd called for his crucifixion: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

Today we remember the Christ who returned for His people. In our relentless pursuit of optimism, we've come to call this procession the Triumphal Entry when, in reality, our King showed up for his everlasting coup on the back of a baby donkey. Peter Koenig’s image caught my attention this year as I’ve continued to surrender more and more of my misplaced affection for national ideology and received greater faith and hope in the everlasting Kingdom instead.

The idea of people waving national flags in the place of palm branches adds a layer of meaning that I can’t shake. Like the cheering crowd, any one of us on any given day is worshiping Jesus through the lens of our cultural, religious, and political wish dreams rather than the true Christ who carries the government of the Creator on his shoulders.

Yet, he forgives our fickle, idolatrous hearts. Then he enables us to do the same. We can forgive the flag-wavers of every ideal and system we encounter. We can choose instead to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with our God, the one riding toward a cross-shaped, cosmic coup.

Hosanna, save us now!

Each year during Holy Week I invite several friends to share their own experience of suffering so that we may look together for the true Christ, always present to the suffering in us and around us. The guest writers tell stories of walking with Jesus on the path of suffering, and include every sort of mourning - illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams. Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too. 

Somewhere along the decade of my thirties I realized I needed a sturdier foundation for all the grief I saw in my own life and in the lives of people around me. I began to rely on others who could sit with me in my grief rather than try to persuade me out of it.  This became the sort of value that defined my relationships -- those who welcomed me into their own suffering and shared mine became my dearest friends.  

A few years ago during Lent as I researched mourning practices around the world for a writing project, I stumbled on the words of Ranier Maria Rilke in his Requiem for a Friend:

"Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned. /

That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted."

This phrase "retrieve lament" added to my understanding that part of Christ's ministry to us through His life, His Spirit and His people is to "retrieve the lament that we omitted".

Toward that end, each day of Holy Week, I'll share one story of lament from a friend's account of suffering as a way to help us walk with Christ toward the cross. Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

Thank you, friends, for walking with me here on the blog these past five weeks. Will you keep watch with me for this final week of Lent?

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer, The Collect for Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday)