“Concerning Lament”

Salters, Robert

an unpublished essay read to members of the Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton Theological Seminary, autumn, 1999

Salter: the regular lament is a stylized complaint to God: it’s plaintive, it often acknowledges sin (as Lamentations does—“five difficult poems expressing sadness and anger”); it sometimes protests innocence (as Job does), and always or almost always has praise somewhere. Claus Westermann says that the point of the plaintive lament is to get around to praise. The Book of Common Prayer general confession is a lament form with self-confession and affliction, but no accusation. Lamentations has to do with the fall of Jerusalem, “the greatest calamity in the history of the people of Yahweh.” The terrible trauma of this event included “the devastation of a confident people, the loss of statehood, the collapse of the economy, the destruction of social structures, the relocation of many families, the removal of religious props, and the dashing of theological hopes.” Brain Daley’s observation (Brian was another member of CTI that fall): Jesus’ “Eloi, Eloi” lament from Psalm 22, his godforsakenness–that’s the NT fall of Jerusalem. At Tenebrae monks would (some still do) sing all of Lamentations between Wed. and Sat. of Holy Week. They reserve this singing for Holy Week. Remarkable. Christians otherwise don’t lament much. For one thing we tend to worship only on Sundays–the festival of resurrection. For another, given the resurrection we “do not mourn as those who have no hope.” Third, for these and other reasons, the lectionary practically rubs out lament.