A Time For Lament

The roads to Jerusalem are in mourning, the crowds no longer come to celebrate the festivals. The City gates are silent.” (Lamentations 1:4)

If you want a good read, find Lamentations. It gives words to where my spirit is as this year comes mercifully (and mercilessly!) to its end. “Let 2020 go hang!” I say.

Lamentations, anonymously authored, is attributed to Jeremiah, who was an eyewitness to Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 BC. This is vividly portrayed in Lamentations’ 5 grief poems. Loss of home, Loss of temple (and so God, it seems), loss of culture and ritual, all ending in exile. Lamentations are read to this day each week in their entirety at the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) in Old Jerusalem. And these poems show up in our Christian liturgy on the last three days of Holy Week as Jesus suffers and dies. The images are stunning…“Jerusalem is like a widow, weeping bitterly in the night.”..”The Roads themselves are in mourning, desolate” … “her oppressors have become her masters and her enemies prosper”…”The LORD in his anger has cast a dark shadow over us”…and then, getting more personal, “God has led me into darkness, shutting out all the light, he has broken my bones, besieged and surrounded me with anguish and distress.” Take up and read, and find the holy sorrow of your soul for our troubles these days.

There are five chapters, five poems. Find them. What will shock you is that the third — right in the middle of all the sorrow and trouble and grief and loss — the third is this stunning doxology of hope in God’s faithfulness! In the heart of lament there is hope:

The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still still dare to hope when I remember this: The Faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease! Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance. Therefore, I will hope in him!” (NLT)

What the scripture teaches us is what our God invites us to — Honest Lament, that is rooted in God’s faithfulness, and so in spite of all evidence to the contrary, holds onto hope. There is the “This is the way it is, and this is how we/I feel”, and there is also the “But this I call to mind” or the “Yet I will trust in you.” This is what constitutes faith itself, our trust in another to lift us, save us, redeem us, heal us, set us free. And God will, because God has a proven track record of faithfulness.

After this pause to reflect on the bigger picture, the writer returns to Lament: “The elders no longer sit in the city gates. the young men no longer dance and sing. Joy has left our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning. The garlands have fallen from our heads. Weep for us because we have sinned. Our hearts are sick and weary, and our eyes grow dim with tears.”

God’s faithfulness does not remove our pain and suffering it seems. The great questions of mortal life linger, like a virus that grows more ferocious all the time. Here’s how the lamenting ends, with a heartfelt prayer: “Restore us, O LORD, and bring us back to you again! Give us back the joys we once had! Or have you utterly rejected us? Are you angry with us still?”

If ever in our lives there was a time for honest lament — for crying out, questioning God, saying exactly what our spirits have to say — this would be that time. Fire away! But do so also with deep and desperate faith in God’s faithfulness and fresh mercy — God, who is with us! Continue to hope. “Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow” is the way we sing it.

Here’s to 2021!

Peter Hawkinson

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