“Hear this word, O house of Israel, this lament I take up concerning you: . . .” Amos 5:1 (NIV)
As we continue our Lenten pilgrimage and focus on the passion of Christ, I want to call our attention to a genre of song in the scripture known as the lament. The Old Testament uses a musical term qina for a composition whose content and structure reflect sorrow, loss, grief, and mourning. The qina was most likely a type of wailing chant. The literary form of the qina is the sapad or “lament”. To sing the lament was an integral part of the life of Old Testament people. Death, calamity, destruction, war, sickness, and individual and corporate sin were occasions to sing the lament. The Psalter and prophetic literature is filled with lamentation of this kind.
In this fifth chapter of Amos, we find the prophet lamenting the national sins of oppression and injustice and the pretense of covenantal faith among the religious leaders. The lament calls the people to repentance lest they experience the judgment of God for their defiance against Him. People lamented by beating their breasts and bitterly weeping as they sang the qina. Professional singers, or lamenters, had the role of dramatizing and heightening the awareness of the people to repent and seek God’s forgiveness before an immanent visitation of judgment.
The genre of biblical lament, with the musical form of the qina or wailing chant, has much to teach us about the role of lament in our Christian lives and in our song. Part of our repertoire, I suggest, as is evident in the Lenten Service of Motets and Meditations, is to model the texts and patterns of lament that lead to heartfelt repentance and genuine faith. As we journey with Christ toward the cross, may the attitudes, affections, and conduct of our lives reflect sorrow for sin and earnest seeking of divine forgiveness. And may we take up our cross each day to follow the Christ. Amen.
Dr. Keith Wells is the Chaplain for Canto Deo and also a Professor at Denver Seminary.