2 October 2022

2 October 2022

Texts:             Lamentations 1:1-6 and 3:19-26


How could this happen?

How could this happen to our sixteen-year-old daughter?

Why did it happen to us?
Why did it happen to us,our family have served God all our lives.

How could this happen? Why did it happen to us? Two very difficult questions to answer.

The book of Lamentations is a problematic text. Written in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE these five poems give voice to the pain and suffering of the community. The images are bold and confronting, descriptive of the plight of the people, reflecting a strong sense of anguish, hurt, deprivation, anger, protest and surprisingly also hope. The book of Lamentations articulates the anguish of the Hebrews in the wake of the conquest of Jerusalem and the razing of the city by Babylon.

In the opening verses of chapter 1, we hear the personified city of Jerusalem bewailing her plight. 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 subject to forced labour.”

The first word, ‘êkah, translated by the NRSV as the interrogative “How,” is a word that serves as a standard opening to a lament – Isaiah 1:21How the faithful city has become a prostitute! She that was full of justice,
righteousness lodged in her— but now murderers!”

Jeremiah 48:17“Mourn over him, all you his neighbours, and all who know his name; say, “How the mighty sceptre is broken, the glorious staff!”

Lamentations 2:1How the Lord in his anger has humiliated[a] daughter Zion!
He has thrown down from heaven to earth the splendour of Israel; he has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger.

Lamentations 4:1, 2How 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 subject to forced labour.”

There can be no doubt that this is a funeral hymn.

Lamentations opens with the personification of Jerusalem as a woman widowed, abandoned in death by her husband. Who is her husband? Her husband is YHWH who, though not dead, has given over his people to suffering. The lament announces abandonment, the deep grief of one alone in anguish.

Lack of Comfort

The declaration that stands out in this poem is that there is no one to comfort.

“She has none to comfort her” (1:2).

“She has no comforter” (1:9).

“My eyes flow with tears for a comfort is far from me” (1:16).
“Zion stretches out her hands but there is none to comfort her” (1:17).

“They heard my groaning, yet there is no one to comfort me” (1:21).

You will notice that in three of these instances (1:2,9,17) the author is referring to the lack of comfort for city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants.

However, in the other two instances the author refers to himself (Notice the switch to the first person) and his own lack of comforters in his grief (1:16, 21). Tied closely with this is the word “groaning” which occurs five times in this poem (1:4,8, 11, 21, 22).

The city is groaning, the people are groaning, and the author is groaning. These words of groaning and lack of comfort ring like a funeral bell gonging throughout the poem.

And if we look at verse 7 utter helplessness is depicted:

“Jerusalem remembers all the precious things that were hers in days of old.
When her people fell into the hand of the enemy and there was no one to help her,
the enemy looked on; they mocked over her downfall.”

The city is in deep misery and all that is left to do is to remember the former days of happiness.

This is what disaster and despair can do to our lives. Our grief and our pain can become so overwhelming that life seems helpless and hopeless. All one feels that they can do is remember the good days in the past for it seems that there will be no more good days ahead.

This is also what intense grief does. The person feels like no one has gone through what he/she is going through. No one is sorrowful like me! No one is sorrowful like us! There is no one to comfort. This is a fact about grief and pain. There is nothing another person can do. Let’s be honest as much as we enjoy having the sympathy of others, when you get down to it, it is not comfort. Yes, it is nice to know that you have friends and family. Yes, it is wonderful to know that people care. But there is nothing that a person can do.

When you got the diagnosis that your 16-year-old daughter had lung cancer, there was nothing anyone could do. What comfort can your friends give?

When you are going through pain and grief, there are no words that can help.

There are no quick fixes. There is no comfort. Not only is there no comfort, but those who you thought were your friends and helpers become enemies (1:2):

“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.”

Can you feel her anguish? Can you the pain? Jerusalem speaks of those who were supposed to be her allies and supporters, yet they have turned their backs on her.

Sometimes people mean well but they can be most insensitive.

Some people are going to let us down. And that can compound our pain and grief.

They cannot be our comforters because they do not have the power to do so.

They cannot help. Truth be told they are just as helpless as we are.

So, we go through our pain and grief.

Listen to the pain that the author of Lamentations describes for himself and for those who lived in Jerusalem. The physical grief that they are feeling is intense and overwhelming. Sometimes it feels like our insides have been twisted and turned over.

Those of us who have experienced grief know that grief can be physically painful.

Grief hurts.

Hope In Grief

We noted earlier that one of the difficulties with pain and grief is there are no comforters.

There is nothing another person can do. We feel helpless in our grief and others feel helpless in your grief.

What can a person do?

I want to quickly suggest three possible reactions to pain and suffering.
Forgive me for my oversimplification.

First, there are those who mightily cling to their faith despite of what they experience

and what their eyes see. They claim with Lamentations 3:22,23:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Such a claim is shouted in the face of all hideous realities. Indeed, the Christian hymn, “Great is your Faithfulness” has become an anthem especially for those who find themselves facing such horrors as they simply cannot face alone and refuse to give into the nihilism and faithlessness that could destroy their hope and their lives.

Second, there are those who are not so sure about all that supposed certainty of YHWH’s love and faithfulness. Can one continue to believe in God when six million died for the absurd reason only that they are Jews, the mad result of a mad man whose prejudice against Judaism and its followers was hatched in the steamy pits of a weak and twisted brain? Can they believe in a loving God survive such an unspeakable thing?

You and I know that some people have given up their faith because they can’t reconcile the two.

Third, we know many continue to put their faith in God despite their lost.

They struggle. Like Jacob of old they struggle with God till they were changed like Jacob.

Some felt that God has abandoned them and cried out to God like Jesus.

“My God, my God,why did you abandon me?” (Mt 27: 46)

God describes herself as the one who gives comfort and relief.

Think about how miserable the people are in their grief for all they had lost.

Listen to the opening words of Isaiah’s prophecy after depicting the fall of Jerusalem.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her

 that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1–2 ESV)

God will comfort God’s people.

The next words of Isaiah’s prophecy is the call to prepare the way of the Lord.

God is coming and God is coming to comfort God’s people. Though there was no one

to comfort Jerusalem for her sins and for her loss, God speaks tenderly to the people and brings comfort.

This is true for us today also. Listen to what the apostle Paul says to the Christians in Corinth.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:3–5 ESV)

Our God is the God of all comfort.

There may be no comfort in this world. But God is the one over all comfort.

God is the giver of comfort. God comforts us in our pain and affliction, and we comfort others through that comfort. God gives us the comfort we need!

Notice that this is exactly what the author of Lamentations does in his grief and he discovered comfort and the faithfulness of God:

“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!
20 My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,[a]his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,to the soul that seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietl for the salvation of the Lord.”