Note: Today and for the next few days, we’ll read excerpts from the book of Lamentations. If you need brief background, please go to the end of my article “Unprecedented Prayers for Unprecedented Times” at https://www.storymakerlife.com/unprecedented.html
Prepare to Listen. Light a candle of hope for the world. Name your present thoughts and feelings as you prepare to read and prayerfully reflect.
Prayerfully Read Lamentations 1:1-4
1 How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.
2 She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.
3 Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude;
she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting-place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.
4 The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate, her priests groan;
her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.
You might be thinking that these verses are rather depressing, that this isn’t helping lift your spirits or encouraging you to remain resilient. But that’s the point. Lament trains us to be attentive to our negative feelings and thoughts so that we will be in a better position to know how to respond to suffering, whether our own or another’s. As Maria Harris warned: “when we become aware of suffering demanding a response, we often can’t act because we haven’t mourned or grieved” (Proclaim Jubilee! 1996, p. 11). So today we reflect on an honest lament about an appalling situation which the pray-er refers to in v3—Judah’s exile in Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The first word of this lament in Hebrew refers to a great cry of mourning usually reserved for funerals. It prepares us for a book that is about mourning and grieving.
Many of us can identify with the opening words. Because of shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders, we’re mourning our cities that once were full of people but now sit empty and lonely. The 4th stanza is also one we know in experience. We’ve just been through an Easter Sunday that was neither festive nor very joyful. We too can mourn and complain, ‘no one comes to the festivals;’ the roads to our churches mourn and the gates/doors are desolate. Our ‘priests [pastors] groan’ as they walk into empty sanctuaries and preach sermons to empty pews. We, congregants groan as we watch their sermons online, in the seclusion of our lonely homes. If we’re fortunate, we may participate in a Zoom meeting and dialogue with a few church friends, whom we can see but not touch. We mourn the loss of face to face meetings, the loss of handshaking as we pass the peace, the loss of giving and receiving a hug. We grieve because lonely sits our city and empty stands our sanctuary. We groan because we have no control over this heavy loss.
While our context is very different to the one the poet laments (exile in Babylon), we too are experiencing loss and lack of control. We are suffering in this global pandemic. Spend time reflecting on the losses in your life and the situations you can no longer control and give yourself permission (think grace) to mourn their loss in the presence of God.
Respond to Jesus
How lonely sit our cities once full of people today, O Lord. I mourn the loss, I grieve over so many lost lives, so many lost jobs, lost incomes. I’m learning I’m not in control and pray that I will be open to the necessary lessons you are leading me to in these days so that I’m able to give up the illusion of control and let you be Lord in my life. Amen