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This Advent, Why It’s OK for You to Grieve During Worship

Advent is now and not yet – songs and groans, comfort and joy.

In this Advent season of waiting, as we inhabit the now and the not yet, I invite you to lament during worship.

Make space to bring experiences of pain, loss and brokenheartedness to God.

Come alongside those in your faith community who need to voice complaint, anger, grief and despair in prayer. Hold onto hope alongside those who are barely holding it together.

For many of us, making it through December is a daily struggle of personal grief. We remember those people who are lost to us; we walk in frustration at the realization of what we thought we would have overcome by now or feel exhausted by challenging circumstances.

We may think we are alone in our sadness and may be reluctant to come to worship because we simply cannot manufacture enough reliable happiness to make it through that hour of joy.

We need to weep but we feel conspicuously sad when surrounded by everyone else’s brightness, so the stark contrast makes our depression go deeper.

Or maybe your life is perfectly shiny in the no-more-tears zone: Consider lament as an opportunity for spiritual accompaniment.

Theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff, reflecting upon the support of the faith community in the months after his son died, says, “Your tears are salve on our wound, your silence is salt.”

We lament as a way of being with others, and as a means of hospitality, a way of weaving ancient spirituality into modern living.

The ancient “O Antiphon” we sing as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” pleads for the “Bright and Morning Star” to turn our darkness into light: This is the voice of hope.

The Psalms of Lament show us an ancient way of praying, a way to express all our emotions before God, and a way to bear one another’s burdens.

How does this work? The psalmist speaks complaint to God, gives sorrow to God, asks God for help and pledges to trust God based on what God has already done.

When we include lament in Advent worship, we are giving space for sharing emotions, calling upon God for help and placing our hope solidly upon the rock of our salvation.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann frames a healthy lament process as moving from orientation, through disorientation and into reorientation.

The Advent lections for our Sundays of Advent contain bookends of lament passages, helping us frame our disorientation with Scripture.

“To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame,” from Psalm 25, read on the first Sunday in Advent.

Moving into reorientation, hear the hope of a fresh start in Psalm 80, for the fourth Advent Sunday, “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”

God’s Spirit works in us and through us to breathe prayers of lament for life situations of grief and despair.

In these laments, we pray on behalf of the bereaved, hungry, oppressed, humiliated, refugees, homeless, abused, poor, lonely and betrayed.

We, the created ones, bring the groaning of creation to Creator God in whose image we are made. Lament carries the freight of protesting the situations in life and leads into hope.

The Advent season gives us time to breathe these prayers, to have difficult conversations and to inwardly digest the difficult passages of Scripture. “The hopes and fears of all the years” are met in Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.

Elizabeth Nance-Coker

Elizabeth Nance-Coker is a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship minister who leads the weekly ecumenical chapel service at Transitions Homeless Shelter in Columbia, South Carolina. She holds the Doctorate of Worship Studies degree from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies, and enjoys serving an ecumenical variety of faith communities including the local homeless shelter, conference leadership and worship seminars.