It is traditional in liturgical churches to read the Book of Lamentations during Holy Week.
This book is a collection of poems that explore grief and trauma. In its original context it would have been the grief and trauma experienced by Israel in the fall of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon that followed (6. Century BCE).
For us in our context: honest expressions of pain and anger and confusion become the basis for hope in God and his grace and mercy. The single most important lesson that this little book teaches is that lamenting evil and tragedy is a part of the journey of faith.
No surprise really then that it is used to bring to a close the Lenten journey.
Monday Listen to, or read, the first two poems (Ch1 and 2)
The (anonymous) author personifies the city of Jerusalem as a widow and so we read of the grief and shame of a person called ‘Lady Zion’ / ‘daughter of Zion’ as she pours out her grief and devastation, the language is that of extreme loss.
The second poem leads us into the people recognising that the causes of their suffering are, at least in some measure, the injustices, idolatry and oppression of the poor that became the hall mark of their communal life, instead of the covenant life offered by God.
Prayer: take time to offer your own lament – be as honest as you can (you may need to go on a long walk somewhere to do this unless you live alone). Close your prayer time with no attempts to resolve anything and simply receive and accept the peace God offers.
Tuesday Listen to or read the third poem (Ch3)
This is the longest poem in the book. The voice here is given to a lonely man who acts as the representative of the whole people. He is here speaking of his suffering and grief. Some of you will recognise language found in Job and in some Psalms and that of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. The poem ends with the only glimmer of light in the book.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Ch3.22-23
Prayer: take time to place your own experience(s) of suffering past or present alongside those of biblical traditions we know of. End with the reminder that in Jesus, God came to be present with us in our suffering. Close your prayer time with no attempts to resolve anything and simply receive and accept the peace God offers.
Wednesday Listen to or read the last two poems (Ch4 and 5)
The first of these poems uses the method of contrast to paint a vivid and disturbing picture of this siege time in Jerusalem (over 2 years). Though disturbing and shocking, the power of this poem comes from exploring the very depth of suffering.
The final poem of this little book ends not in order but in chaos. And indeed for any experiences of grief, distress and trauma we have felt ever, that would ring true. There is anything but clarity.
We have here too a communal prayer for God’s mercy with the plea
‘Remember us O Lord’.
The shift is extraordinary – from me and how suffering feels for me – to us and how suffering feels and is for others. Point of interest: this prayer has often been used for national mourning when some national tragedy has occurred.
Prayer: take time to make such a movement in prayer yourself
If your suffering has been the effects of pandemic
– pray for others who have been harder hit….. specific nations perhaps ?
If your suffering has been the loss of a job or relationship
– pray for others who …..
If your suffering is around loneliness and isolation or even feeling abandoned
– pray for others who …..
Close your prayer time with no attempts to resolve anything and simply receive and accept the peace God offers.