Tony Woodlief | Author


When we tucked what remained of that little girl into the earth, I was relieved it was over. I was filled with something that felt like transcendence. We had weathered the storm, we had kept the faith, we had given her back to God, and now we would await patiently the life of the world to come. How peaceful and triumphant and emptied of worldly concern I thought myself to be.

There is something essential and beautiful in lamentation. It is a witness against death, and we should bear witness, because death is an abomination and an obscenity. A great perversion of the Christian faith is the transformation of funerals into celebrations. Death is a destroyer, and this is why we sing, as we celebrate the triumph of a Messiah: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death.” Death is an abomination and death is being trampled down and we who would live eternally shall bear witness against it.

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Death is woven into our flesh, and so is lamentation, though we avoid it with our culture that whistles past the graveyard. Even pagans would believe in a victory over death, but if that victory matters, surely then all the blood of the ages gone stilled and black has been a tragedy—a tragedy stretching from the garden sin to brother killing brother to our own dark-hearted acts, yours and mine. To deny the tragedy is to deny our deep yearning for liberation. To refrain from lamentation is to deny, then, what is in our own hearts.

When the Ewe that bare him

Saw them slaying her Lamb,

Tossed by swelling waves of pain she wailed forth her woe,

And moved all the flock to join her bitter cries.


Gone the Light the world knew!

Gone the Light that was mine!

O my Jesus, that art all of my heart’s desire:

So the Virgin spake lamenting at thy grave.


Who will give me water

For the tears I must weep,

So the maiden wed to God cried with loud lament,

That for my sweet Jesus I may rightly mourn?


Who will give me water for the tears I must weep? I learned, in the years after that graveside parting, what comes of the incomplete lament. Our hearts will be broken. They can only be healed after breaking. I have unlearned much of what I thought I knew, and likely still imagine I know more than I really do, but here is one thing I believe I have learned, which I share with you as we walk with Christ toward Golgotha: Let your heart be broken.

Let your heart be broken, and remember the fullness of the Paschal refrain we will sing come Sunday, come judgment day, come the day of our liberation: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”

Today hath Hades sighed, crying: “My power hath been swallowed up; for the Shepherd, crucified, hath raised Adam; and those whom I possessed I lost. Those whom I had swallowed by my might, I have given up completely; for the Crucified hath emptied the graves and the might of death hath vanished.”

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