A Gathering Voices post by Lynne M. Baab
I was raised in a family where happy and upbeat were the accepted emotions. Sadness was occasionally allowed. We moved a lot, and it was okay for me to be sad about leaving my friends. Sadness was also allowed when a grandparent died. Anger was never, never okay, and I can remember many times when my mother said, “Lynne, you’re not angry,” even when my tone of voice and body language gave ample evidence to the contrary.
I became a committed Christian at 19, and it didn’t take me long to discover the variety of emotions expressed in the psalms. Sorrow and sadness play a role in many psalms, and, yes, even anger appears numerous times. The Psalms seem to affirm that all emotions can be brought into the presence of God, that all emotions can find a home and refuge in God. For a person like me, who still experiences intense emotions and who still longs to have them validated as acceptable, the psalms have been balm to my soul.
Holy Week is another great delight, a bit of a relief from the generally upbeat Christian culture. My delight comes from the glorious fact that it’s a week of intense emotions, with just about every possible emotion present in the various stories of the week. Peter chops off a soldier’s ear (John 18:10)! It takes a lot of powerful emotion to do that!
The variety of activities held by congregations during Holy Week make room for some of the diverse emotions associated with the events leading up to Jesus’ death on the cross. Sadness is certainly an acceptable emotion during Holy Week.
While I’m grateful sadness is acceptable in Holy Week, perhaps anger is still not very welcome. I wonder where and when in church settings we can express anger over human sin and its effects in human life. So many events in the news enrage me, everything from the gap between executive salaries and laborers’ wages to pre-teen girls forced into prostitution. I simply can’t believe how self-centered and self-serving human beings so often are; I feel angry at what other people do, but I also find plenty to be angry at in myself. “First do no harm” is the baseline medical ethics statement. Yet humans obviously can seldom achieve that. “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). There’s another concept that seems completely lost in our time.
Prayers of lament are found in the psalms, Lamentations and elsewhere, and they make a start at expressing anger. Why don’t we use laments more often in congregational worship? Why, when someone gets worked up about something unjust, do we try to calm them down and shut down strong emotions? Why, in fact, do strong emotions make people feel so uncomfortable? Do we feel that we have to fix them?
I get to preach on Easter Sunday, and I’ll be preaching about the kinds of fresh starts that God gives us, fresh starts that are visible in the Mark version of the resurrection (Mark 16:1-8). I love Easter just about as much as it’s possible to love a day of the year. Jesus Christ, the one who was raised from the dead to bring us new life, welcomes us just as we are. He welcomes me, with all my ups and downs, all my passionate emotions, all my anger and sadness, and yes, with all my moments of joy as well.
Take a deep breath and settle into God’s amazing love for broken and selfish human beings, shown on Good Friday and on Easter Sunday.