Manresa Moment: Wednesday of Holy Week, April 8

Layla Karst, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Theological Studies, invites us to reflect on the voice of lament and to give expression to our own suffering and hope.


Before you begin, gather some simple materials with which to write: a journal or notebook, or even plain paper and pencil. Take a few moments to clear your mind and still your body before continuing below.


I. Reflection

Holy Week begins each year with waving palm branches and the proclamation of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a precursor to our Easter celebration seven days later in a liturgy marked by holy fire and holy water, by singing and storytelling, by a eucharistic feast and the proclamation of Christ’s triumph over death. But during Holy Week, these liturgical bookends of praise are suffused with the suffering, the anguish, the lament that occupies the space between them. The gospel readings of the daily mass tell a story of progressive abandonment and isolation—Jesus is abandoned by the political and religious leaders of his community, by the crowds who followed him and welcomed him into Jerusalem, by his friends who had promised never to desert him, and even by God. As Jesus’ lifeless body was laid in the tomb and the stone rolled across, even the women who had been faithful to the end, abandoned him to the grave. If the gospels provide a narrative of lament, the psalms of this week’s liturgies provide the human voice of lament, flung in outrage and grief at God until they escape even the very lips of Jesus on the cross.


The voice of lament in holy week seems especially poignant this year when our liturgies are disrupted by quarantines and social distancing. Instead of gathering to wave our palm branches, many simply affixed them to their doors. In doing so, this symbol of praise also marked our grief at not being together. The shutdown of schools and business has revealed the economic precariousness in which so many people live all the time. Our efforts to save lives by staying at home have threatened the livelihoods of so many who were struggling before the illness hit and many more who may have imagined themselves secure.  Meanwhile, the virus itself does not distinguish between rich and poor, young and old. Our hospitals fill with the sick, people are dying alone, and we don’t have places to put the bodies. A stunning photo from a church in Italy revealed coffins lining the aisles between empty pews. Even mourning and burying the dead has become a challenge.


The ancient prayer of lament is at the heart of holy week. It gives voice to those who are sick, those deprived of dignity, those who have died, and it places them in our midst. Theologian Elizabeth Johnson writes that lament “cries to heaven for justice, for relief, at least for explanation, which is never forthcoming.”[1] The voice of lament is curiously absent from our liturgical prayer most of the year, but enters in a powerful way during this most holy of weeks to infuse our praise. At the center of the Paschal mystery, praise and lament go hand in hand. Johnson again writes,

In the face of this suffering, the church needs to lament, ringing out complaint to God’s face, wrestling with the holy name, dethroning traditional pat answers, and looking anew amid the defeated for God…When the tragically dead are remembered in the context of Christian faith, the cross of Jesus introduces a hope that transforms these raw depths of unreason and suffering into doxology, only now the praise is forever imbued with the knowledge of unimaginable pain and the darkness of hope against hope. That which is remembered in grief can be redeemed, made whole, through the promise of the Spirit’s new creation.[2]


[1] Elizabeth Johnson. Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints (New York: Continuum, 2005), 248.

[2] Elizabeth Johnson, Friends of God and Prophets, 249.


II. Spiritual practice: Writing a Psalm of Lament

The psalmists not only give voice to lament, they teach us how to pray.
Read today’s psalm (left column) and then write your own psalm of lament to lift in prayer to God. 

(On mobile? Click here to view the table in a new window.) 

Psalm 69: 1, 4, 8-10, 14-19, 31-35

Writing your Psalm of Lament

Save me, God,
I am weary with crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail
from looking for my God.

Address to God
Begin by addressing God by name.

For your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother’s sons,
because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.

Insult has broken my heart, and I am weak,
I looked for sympathy, but there was none;
for consolers, not one could I find.
Rather they put gall in my food,
and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.


Cries of Complaint and Anguish

These cries name your anger, grief, and anguish and lift them to God. Notice here how the psalmist calls God to account for what has happened: “For your sake I bear insult.”


But I will pray to you, Lord,
at a favorable time.
God, in your abundant kindness, answer me
with your sure deliverance.
Rescue me from the pit
and do not let me sink.
Rescue me from those who hate me
and from the watery depths.
Do not let the flood waters overwhelm me,
nor the deep swallow me,
nor the pit close its mount over me.

Answer me, Lord, in your generous love;
and in your great mercy turn to me.
do not hide your face from your servant;
hasten to answer me, for I am in distress.
Come and redeem my life!


Loss, Illness, and Injustice: all of these demand a response. Ask God to respond to your cry. Tell God what action is needed.


Here I am miserable and in pain;
let your saving help protect me, God,
that I may will praise the name of God in song,
and glorify him with thanksgiving:
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”
Let the heavens and the earth praise the Lord,
The seas and whatever moves in them! 

Affirmation and Promise of Praise
Psalms of lament always end in hope and promise. End your psalm of lament with an affirmation that God hears our cries and promise to praise God again when you are able.



If you feel moved, pray with your psalm of lament this Holy Week. If you want us to pray it with you, share it with us through our Prayer Submissions form.



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