I began preaching this morning a series on the book of 2 Samuel. In the first chapter of that book (which could just as easily be understood as the 32nd chapter of 1 Samuel, so tied together are they) the not-yet-king David hears word that the recently-deceased king Saul and his three sons had died in the midst of Israel’s crushing defeat at the hands of the Philistines. David does not celebrate this news, even though Saul had become an enemy, but mourns it, for there was much to mourn.
But he does not merely mourn. He leads those around him in an act of public lamentation that all might grasp the depth of what has happened. He is not an opportunist but a leader after God’s own heart. His grief is genuine, and his instincts are wise. To enable the public grieving, David composes a poem of lament which is preserved for us at the end of 2 Samuel 1.
Walter Brueggemann, in pondering this act, so unprecedented in modern society, reflects on our own temptation to devalue the power and significance of words to public life. There is something lost, he feels, in the temptation to silence all serious speech and to elevate calculation and technique.
I am persuaded that he is saying something important here, but its full importance seems just out of reach for me. I share his words here with an invitation for others to use the comments section to flesh out the significance, or irrelevance, of his reflections.
Interpretive words cannot catch the power, anguish, and pathos present in the poem of verses 19-27 [of 2 Samuel 1]. We may however identify three guides to its interpretation. First, words matter. Sound religion is so often a matter of finding the right words, words that will let us genuinely experience, process, and embrace the edges of our life. The cruciality of words needs to be at the center of the church’s life, for we live in a culture that grows mute by our commitment to technique. The dominant ideology of our culture wants to silence all serious speech, cover over all serious loss, and deny all real grief. Such a silencing is accomplished through the reduction of life to technique that promises satiation. But such a muteness will leave us numb, unable to hope or to care. Against such an ideological urging, speech like this poem is a bold, daring, subversive alternative. It is an assertion and enactment of the conviction that our humanness may not and must not be silenced. When there are no longer real words, but only cliches and slogans, life is that much more diminished. (Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel, page 217)