Hope in Lamentations – by Jeff Lackie
Theological Reflection – Sunday, October 6, 2013 – Lamentations 1: 1-6, 3: 19-26
Jeff Lackie is a minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. He currently serves in the Thorburn-Sutherland’s River Pastoral charge in Pictou County, Nova Scotia.
The Lamentations of Jeremiah are not easy reading. Consequently, they are hardly common currency in the regular course of Sunday worship. Lamentation is out of fashion, both as a habit, and as a tonic for the things that ail us as the gathered people of God. There is, of course, the discipline of the Lectionary, to bring us back to these challenging words, that we might adjust our habits, and take our medicine with courage.
The first thing I notice in my triennial foray into Lamentations, is the disturbingly modern picture painted by author. The assigned verses are only enough to whet the appetite, but having read further, I sensed a kindred spirit here; for to my surprise, I have sung his song of despair, if only in my silent prayers, as I consider the state of the world in which we live.
The nations – all the nations – have abandoned their hope, it seems. Millions of lives are shattered, national reputations are ruined, and our answer is preventative conflict and other such nonsense. Under the cover of ‘peace-making’, our leaders create new language for ancient curses; while the resonance of human sin both fuels our despair and suggests a response.
The poet/prophet has been a participant in the outrage; so have we all. The despair is real, and the sense of our being (deservedly) ‘God-forsaken’ is the position of those who are mired deep in their despairing. The national attitude seems to be aggressive acceptance of the state of things – this is reflected in the reading between the lessons for this Sunday – and the author offers the simplest of explanations for the plight of God’s people: God is credited with keeping God’s word – turning a blind eye to the indignity suffered by the people at the hands of their enemies. It is “God’s justice”, but we are to blame – this is the prophetic accent of the author of Lamentations, and it is the echo of those accents that we must add to our present proclamation.
It takes a certain kind of faithfulness to ascribe your downfall directly to God – and it takes a great deal of courage to accept that none of this is God’s fault (for this is the common mistake of those who take the easy way out of the problem of theodicy). The author of Lamentations exhibits both faithfulness and courage in unusual amounts.
The author turns from the general to the particular – the nation is ruined; her reputation soiled – but the author claims the hurt as his own. It is in this personal turn – a collision of faith and courage – that we first discover the real gift of this text. In chapter 3: 21-36, we are offered an honest glimpse of his struggle with the notion of God’s powerful-powerlessness. Here the paradox of evil which seems to come ‘from the hand of God’, is explored from a position of hope that is not often credited to the Hebrew Scriptures by the people of the Resurrection.
It is this bold shift from despair to hope that should become our habit. Such proclamation is not only the right of the faithful – it is our responsibility. To claim, against all odds, the promises of God; to lift from the wreckage of war the notion that all the combatants have a share in these same promises. To say, against the grain of popular opinion, that we have brought this wrath upon ourselves because of our ignorance of (and abuses of) the grace, peace and ‘the love of God’.
Lamentations made much of the particular love of God for a particular people, and this ancient paradigm occasionally traps us; our impulses toward preservation and purity – our fear of the other, and our insistence on cultural (or political/ religious/economic) superiority all move us to seek God’s approval, or claim Divine support –but this paradigm of particularity was shattered by the witness of Jesus.
To a people struggling with the notion of particular grace from a ‘particular’ God, Jesus brought the idea of God whose love crossed the boundaries that we built around ourselves, our societies, and our faith. It is through Christ that we are given the faith and indeed the courage to seek justice in the midst of (and in spite of) our own sin; to proclaim peace against the soundtrack of war; to admit defeat and still anticipate God’s victory. Such thinking may seem foolish to those unaccustomed to lamentation, but to anyone willing to engage the gospel – to those who see the world through Jesus’ eyes – this hope turns our lamentation into laughter.