As Covid sweeps over the prairies like a wildfire and the political debate and division daily grow more acrimonious and unending, the Book of Lamentations in the Old Testament gives us much to think about. Twice now, Lamentations 3.22-27 has appeared in my thoughts and thus into some musings:
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.
Setting is all important to this piece. According to commentaries, the book is a series of five poems that were long believed to have been written by the prophet Jeremiah, depicting the suffering of the children of Israel in Babylon.
Marin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, saw these poems as more than just a harkening back to Babylon. Luther’s theology is called the Theology of the Cross. He believed we meet God in the suffering of this world. Later, Albert Schweitzer would come to a similar understanding that we can only know who Jesus really is when we meet him in the work he has called us to do for our time. To divorce Jesus from his teachings about our call to serve the poor, the sick, those in prison, the hungry, those victims of injustice, that is, the suffering, is to not know Jesus at all. There is another line that says Jesus’ call is to come and die with him and in scripture he says, “Take up your Cross and follow me.”
Lamentations is a book of hope in the middle of suffering. To lament is to claim personal suffering and the suffering of others, but to also know what we are to do with that suffering. We are to lay it at the feet of Jesus and then translate our laments into action. We never give up hope. We go on working and fighting and caring. The struggles of this life also mark a clear vision of our call to serve the world.
Today is All Saints’ Sunday 2020. Saints don’t work for sainthood. It isn’t like a promotion in the Kingdom of God. Saints work because they love God and their lives are lives of gratitude for all they have been given. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Workers’ Movement wrote, “You cannot look for the true meaning of communion as worship to be participated in by all and dedicating yourself to God in prayers and worship, and yet remain a cold-blooded individualist in one’s life outside the church.” I am reminded of a member of the Movement who was recently injured in Buffalo, New York, during a Black Lives Matter march. He was pushed to the ground as he called for justice and peace. There is much to lament in our world today. The voices of compassion are muffled in the face of oppression and power. But they are never silent. As real today as they were in the time of Jeremiah, the Laments teach us how to sit quietly in the mercies of the Lord being filled with His loving care for the good of the world.