Our Lent series this year is “The Weeping Word“, where we’re meditating on key places in the Scriptures where Lament, crying, tears, and weeping happen. Today, we look at the first instance of this in the Bible.
There is a particular rhythm that God’s people have always used in their liturgy. If you pay attention, you’ll see this rhythm pop up in lots of different places throughout the Christian Scriptures. My favorite unexpected place where this shows up is in the story of Cain and Abel.
The story opens with these two brothers coming to worship, answering an implied Call to Worship that issues from God. This is where the liturgical rhythm begins. God calls us to worship him, and we respond by offering him this worship to him.
But everyone comes to worship from different places, and not everyone’s heart and offering is pure.
And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
Our worship gets twisted and directed towards the wrong things, and this is what we call sin. Offering worship wrongly and to the wrong things. Wrong worship produces wickedness within us.
“Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.
Confession & Lament
In light of sin, God does not move away from his people, but he moves towards them. We see God come to us in a poor worship and wickedness, and he offers a Call to Confession.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”
It’s here we see the first instance of Lament and “crying out” in the Bible. And see who does it? The human blood, soaking the earth.
This is powerful. We forget that the parties involved in sin are not just humanity and God. The whole of the cosmos and creation suffer the weight and consequences of sin. And I’m not talking about environmentalism or stewarding our world (though we should). I’m talking about a weight and groaning woven into the fabric of creation. It is a spiritual thing. The prophets speak of the Messiah’s reign having effects on animals, crops, and livestock.
Indeed, the primary object of the curses that God levies in Genesis 3 and 4 are the earth itself. Remember, God’s mission to cultivate this world into a place for his dwelling has always been Plan A. After humans sin, the “plan” and the “mission” don’t change. The process of accomplishing this mission just gets harder. The world both within and without us fights back in our attempts to live in light of God’s reign in this world as his representatives.
But as this text shows, not only does the world fight back, but it holds a mirror up to our souls. The world bears the scars of the violence and injustices that humanity does against itself and others. The world is soaked with the ways that people have wounded one another.
And it cries out. It weeps. The world holds the weight of our violence.
I find it fascinating that the first entity to cry out in Lament over humanity’s sin is the world; a witness outside of us that testifies against us. This world rebels against us and our souls and bodies have nothing that feels like home. What we do has cosmic implications.
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.”
So how does God respond to the world’s testimony against us, our sin, and the weigh of curse that we bear?
The Mark of Cain
Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”
God again moves towards the sinner. He knows the weight and alienation that we feel. But in response to Confession, he speaks a word of comfort, peace, assurance, and protection. Cain will not die. Though the world moves against him, he still belongs to the Lord.
After this word of God is spoken to Cain, he is then marked in a tangible, sacramental way, and sent out in Benediction on into the world to bear this mark in the rest of his life.
This is God’s response, and ours, in light of the world crying out against us. We take in the mark of our sin both in Baptism and the Eucharist, so that the animosity among us turns to Love and God’s hiddenness becomes Communion.
We then go in peace, to wipe away the tears of the earth, and to love and serve the Lord.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
—The Book of Romans