Lament/Hope

Jason Storbakken

In remembrance of 9/11

(Lamentations 3:1-24)

Our scripture selection today is from the third chapter of Lamentations – written by the prophet Jeremiah, also known as the weeping prophet. He is writing at a time when Jerusalem, a small city-state, is under siege from the mighty Babylonian empire.

Jeremiah preached a seemingly fatalistic message while court prophets declared that God would give Jerusalem the victory.

Jeremiah proclaimed that war with Babylon was futile. He told the ruling elite of Jerusalem it would be better to not take up arms – to practice peace – essentially, surrender! But it would be a surrender unto God first, and then to Babylon, but only for a season.

The ruling elite did not listen, so Jeremiah spoke, Thus saith the Lord, and proclaimed that the destruction of Jerusalem was imminent.

For speaking out the king had Jeremiah’s scrolls burned to ashes. He was then put under house arrest. But the prophet did not relent – he continued to proclaim the message of peace even in the midst of the most violent aggression – and he was formally charged and arrested and placed into a jail cell.

But he continued to preach and to testify. And he was eventually thrown into an empty, muddy well. Thrown away into a pit.

The prophet called the people and rulers to listen to God. But the rulers simply wanted him silenced.

When the Babylonians finally invaded Jerusalem, Jeremiah, now an old man, is sitting alone in a prison cell.

Babylon conquered Jerusalem. The city of God decimated. The temple destroyed. And the Judeans taken into captivity.

Jeremiah surely did not know what would become of him now that Babylon had conquered Jerusalem, but by God’s grace he was shown favor by the Babylonian king and allowed to remain with those of his people who were not taken into captivity.

Emerging from his prison cell, Jeremiah is witness to the destruction of the temple, the decimation of his people, and the ruined state of Jerusalem. He weeps.

It is in the immediate aftermath of Jerusalem’s destruction that Jeremiah writes Lamentations.

“I am one who has seen affliction

under the rod of God’s wrath;

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,

and broken my bones;

he has besieged and enveloped me

with bitterness and tribulation;

he has made me sit in darkness

like the dead of long ago.

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness

is wormwood and gall!

My soul continually thinks of it

and is bowed down within me.”

Jeremiah is broken. He has tried with all his might to be faithful, to speak truth, but now there is nothing but ruins and destruction about him. Everywhere is death and heaps of rubble and ash. Those who were once the ruling elite are now slaves in a foreign land. His homeland is an occupied territory with heavy military presence. And though he has trusted God all along, he cries out to God, even places blame on God. He is venting.

Jeremiah has been weeping, pouring out to God, blaming God for almost three full chapters. But then, somehow, in the midst of his deep lament, there is a shift. A deep change occurs in Jeremiah.

“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.”

Jeremiah has been anything but quiet throughout his ministry. He has written unnumbered prophetic works, spoken out against the ruling elite and the false prophets, suffered persecution and incarceration. And so I believe that he is talking about a quietness or stillness in his very soul. He has found peace – with God, with himself, and maybe with some of the remnant in Jerusalem.

And he has found hope. “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Salvation is coming!

In the midst of lament, the prophet proclaims that things are not the way they are supposed to be. Another way is possible. God still sits on the holy throne.

Hope is birthed in lament.

Hope is an act of resistance against the dominant culture, regardless of its military might – or even threat of aggression from other nations. As followers of Christ, we do not put our trust in princes or politicians, or the one who sits in this nation’s highest office or in the highest offices of other nations, nor do we put our trust in celebrities or even movement leaders, but we are called to put our trust in God.

Since the start of this century our world has reeled with violence and brutality. And even many who once supported military aggression toward the enemies of the U.S. are now wavering. We are tired of war – or perhaps we have simply become numb.

Our nation has been fighting but not properly lamenting.

I believe that in the 21st century we need a different language that keeps awake the importance of lament. We need to dwell deeply in this crying out.

When we, individually or as a people, lament we are making a profound statement. Our sadness, anger, frustration, feelings that aren’t always easily identifiable, these feelings, as mixed as they might be, show that we are not numb – and that we have not become desensitized to the plight of others around us.

We lament because we care. We too often use the word care flippantly. We care about our family, we care about sports, we care about the economy, we care about politics.

In at least three languages – proto-Germanic, Old Norse, and Hebrew – the  word for care is kara. And in each of these languages it has the same meaning: to cry out with.

Thus, in our lament, we cry out, we are with others, we care. We are not called to be alone, but instead we are called to lament collectively, to sit with those who hurt, and to weep with them, to hold their space, and if we are not physically near those who suffer and struggle we can stand in solidarity with them, pray, and call upon the name of Jesus on behalf of those who hurt and need healing.

We see this crying out with in Job. He is suffering. He has lost his family, home, wealth and health. He is grieving. And his three friends, although they get a bad rap, actually sit with him for 7 days. In Judaism this is called sitting shiva. They are sitting and mourning with Job.

There continues to be great suffering in this world, individually and globally. We need only to look at the U.S. This mighty nation is only 241 years old, but has been at war for 224 of those years. That means that the U.S. has been at war 93% of its existence.

Since time immemorial there have been wars and rumors of war.

So we might ask: Is life without violence possible? Will there be a time when nations “learn war no more”? (Isa. 2:4). And will it ever be profitable to beat swords into plowshares, to turn that which was once meant for death and destruction into that which is life-giving?

The scriptures show us that our participation toward embodying hope begins with us not being comfortable in this world of vice and strife, economic exploitation and the machinery of war. Our disagreement and dissent lead us toward forms of non-conformity, and the eventual creation of new ways and new relationships.

The scriptures show us that another way truly is possible. We will be new creations and there will be a new heaven and a new earth. This new way begins in confession and repentance. This is the religious language of lament.

We know the sin in our heart and in our world. We benefit at the expense of other people groups based on nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and so many other identity markers – and we form camps and tribes, and we buy into the rhetoric that divides rather than unites.

We know that we are complicit and so we confess.

Nearly two decades since September 11, 2001, centuries after this nation was formed, and thousands of years after Jeremiah was thrown into that pit for speaking out – We lament because things are still not the way they are supposed to be.

We lament because certain politicians and ideologies and too often ourselves use tragedy to perpetuate hurtful rhetoric that marginalizes and further stigmatizes the other.

We lament lives lost and the trauma that is still held in bodies and minds and hearts.

We lament because too often we fail to identify with those who suffer and hurt and feel left out and put down.

We lament because of the brokenness of our world.

And still we hope… We hope that even in our brokenness that you, Holy One, continue to fill us to overflow with hope and peace and love.

We hope because the resurrection of a peasant from Palestine named Jesus means that the empire will never have the last word.

And we hope because we are able to proclaim with Jeremiah, Great is Your faithfulness. Your mercies are new every morning.