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Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:19-26
Before the reading: Jeremiah lived in a politically tense and fearful time when Judah was trapped between the world’s great political powers. This is the same hopeless position so well known by those who struggle in what we refer to today as the “third world”. In Jeremiah’s time the ongoing and endless conflicts and power struggles were between three Superpowers: Assyria, Babylon and Egypt.
Judah would always find herself somewhere caught in the middle of their larger conflicts…And they would finally lose… Babylon’s armies are too much for them.
They become victims to the fight for power and control of the world. And now, Jerusalem is destroyed… the temple is in rubble… people are being led away to exile… and a few remain.
What is left to say?
Lamentations, whether written by Jeremiah or another set of authors at the time, speaks what people were saying and thinking when they lost it all. It is a bleak picture.
How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has , she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.
2She 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.
3Judah 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.
4The 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.
5Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.
6From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.
It’s a bleak picture. The siege of Jerusalem had lasted for two long years. During that time Jeremiah and his people had witnessed the hopeless horrors of famine that continue today in places like Somalia and Haiti amidst an otherwise prosperous, well-fed world. (Did you know that there are 842 million (million!) people living with chronic malnourishment in the world today?) Jeremiah and his people were living through a time of desperation like the 2 million refugees from Syria many living in tent camps… They were living through a time of fear like many Christians in countries like Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt and Syria and so many other places in our world.
While the average American Christian may worry about how long the service will last or where to go to lunch, our brothers and sisters may worry whether there is a suicide bomber at church… or whether when they go home from worship they will be killed or if their home will still be standing. During the week, leaders may wonder if their church will be destroyed.
Lamentations gives voice to them and invites us on this World Communion Sunday to widen our vision and our hearts and keep everything in perspective – and think about our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in hunger and fear and terror this very day as we share communion with them. For them, persecution is not about church history—it is their living reality today, October 6, 2013.
Lamentations invites us to pray with them and for them today.
As we continue to read Jeremiah, it can get fairly depressing… By chapter three you are about as low as you can get,
“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall (a bitter drink given to the dying)!
My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.”
Then, just when you need it most, just when Jeremiah and his people are exhausted and poured themselves out in tears… in verse 21, there comes a turn with one little phrase: “But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope” (and you wonder, “What could this be that changes the mood?!”)
“But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
“the Lord is my portion, says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
For Jeremiah, and frankly for most of those who lament in scripture, something strange and wonderful happens as we listen to them lament.
With the exception of one Psalm (88)—every other lament in the Bible has this in common… Through their tears, they come to a place where something comes to mind that offers them hope. Most of the time the source of hope or praise comes from remembering this:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
“the Lord is my portion, says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases… his mercies never come to an end.
When those who lament reach the end of their rope, a lifeline is thrown out to them—it is their remembering that in the worst of times, in the most uncertain and chaotic of times, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. It is a belief, an affirmation they hold onto for dear life.
World communion Sunday brings to mind the steadfast love of the Lord.
I wonder if you know that this celebration began at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. The idea was conceived by Dr. Hugh Kerr, the pastor at Shadyside in a very dark time in our world’s history. The year was 1933, the time of the Great depression. As one source said, “The storm clouds of Nazism and Fascism hovered all over Europe and threatened the entire world. As a faith response to these concerns, a group of leaders at Shadyside Presbyterian Church sought to do something both real and symbolic to proclaim that God is God indeed, in spite of politics, economics and future shock.”
Today, as I think about our brothers and sisters living through their own very dark times this day, I’m imagining them in worship, gathering around a table and when “the night which Jesus was betrayed” is brought to mind, they will know they are not alone. When they remember how Jesus shared this supper on his darkest and most fearful night– as he was about to be rejected, slandered and abused by his own people and crucified at the hands of a superpower: Rome… they will know they are not alone.
Surely they will remember that at the deepest and darkest moment of his life, how Jesus brought to mind the Passover of God in the Exodus… remembering how God had been faithful during those dark days…
And today when they pass the bread and the cup and say to one another, “this is the body of Christ broken for you… this is the blood of Christ shed for you”—they will they see in him a new Passover… a new sign of God’s faithful, steadfast love to see them through the darkest of days. And this will give them hope.
Today we are singing the hymn that many of our brothers and sisters around the world have sung [that speaks of this steadfast love— many living in difficult circumstances. The hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness, is inspired by our text today. This hymn has been translated in many languages… but always with one message that speaks to people in every culture. The message is this:
Life is not easy…in fact, it is very hard. Some days you are not even sure you can take anymore: there is so much suffering in our lives and in the lives of our brothers and sisters… and Lord knows (he really knows) It would be easy to give up hope as we can take no more… and yet it is just in those moments we hear this word:
“But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness