A Penitential Cry

“Savior, when in dust to thee, Low we bow the abending knee, When, repentant to the skies, scarce we lift our weeping eyes; O, by all Thy pains and woe, suffered once for us below, Bending from thy throne on high, Hear our penitential cry”  Savior, When in Dust to Thee, LSB 419

Death is all around us. This is more obvious than ever, and it has become a very prevalent part of society, more so than in past years. It has been forced in front of our very eyes as we taste death as we eat our breakfast receiving daily reports on the morning news of all those who have died. Death has made a return to our minds as we have been obligated to look at its smug face. Death has become far more pervasive in our society as of late and we are reminded that even though we have made advancements in science and medicine we are reminded this week, as we have been reminded this year, that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Tonight, we face death in all its terror, and calamity. We reflect on death and how it haunts us as tonight we sing and focus on a hymn surrounding dust, weeping, mourning, and grief. But what do we cry?

When faced with death we all share a common response. Sorrow, grief, mourning, weeping, crying. Death brings with it this overwhelming darkness that is all around us. We feel it not only where it leaves a physical void that is seen by an empty chair at a table, or by a phone that goes unanswered, or by mail that remains unopened, but we feel it inside of us as well. Death is a thief that takes from us not only physically but spiritually and emotionally. We all acknowledge that at some point we will die, but when we come face to face with it leaves us in shambles… And we find ourselves left with weeping eyes. Eyes puffy and swollen, bloodshot, with tear-stained cheeks as death draws out our weeping and our cries. But what do we cry? 

There were two brothers. One tended to the flocks of cattle, while the other was more of a ground’s keeper, a gardener. Both were working honorably in the tasks they had been given. As was part of their religion, they would offer sacrifices from their taking in the fields and from the flocks. Yet, one’s offering was more pleasing to God. The one who worked the fields was looked on with favor while the one who worked the ground was not. This, of course, stirred up jealousy that led to hatred. Hatred led to turn brother against brother, to cause a rock against skull. Which then caused blood to flow into the dust, and God above heard his blood in death cry out from the ground. But what does it cry?

Lent marks the time we begin to walk the road of the cross to Calvary. It is a time that begins with the marking of ashes on our foreheads. We come beaten, worn, and tired… We are exhausted from the daily grinds. We are tired of the sins that burden us continually and we can’t seem to shake them. So, we begin this season by bearing the dust that we have come from visibly on our faces. A reminder that one day dust shall not just cover our forehead but our bodies. It is a season for us to cry out to God. But what do we cry? We know that we are dead in sin, so we raise our penitential cry turning from the sins that keep us captive and cry, “God forgive us!” This road leads us to the culmination when we lift our weeping eyes.

On a Friday morning, early in the day, three men walked through the streets up onto a hill. There they carried death on their backs as women lifted their weeping eyes and cried out. There, these three men were nailed to their rugged crosses and as nails pierced flesh their voices cried out. Then, as three men hang, one speaks. Through labored breaths and cries of agony, he looks at the ones who killed him and he cries out. But what does he cry? Here, we know. Jesus looks at those who have killed him, and he lifts a penitential cry. But it isn’t for him, it is for those who killed him, and he asks for their forgiveness. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Yet Christ’s cry was not one with voice and breath, but with blood dripping from wrists into the dust. Yet, this wasn’t the only time Jesus went face to face with death. 

When Jesus’ good friend Lazarus died and was put in the grave, Christ was not above grief. He was not one who stood and just refused to mourn although he knows how this all ends, with resurrection. Yet, we see the reality of death drip from the eyes of God. To ignore death and its robbery, we ignore its severity, its horror, and its offense. Jesus, who is the resurrection, and the life, mourns the death of his friend; he weeps. His eyes puffy and swollen, bloodshot with tear-stained cheeks as death draws out his weeping and his cries. But what does Jesus cry? He cries “Lazarus, come out!’ And from the dead, He rises.