While Scripture offers numerous passages that comfort, I find myself
particularly attracted to these verses in Lamentations precisely because of
the setting. We might find it easy to proclaim that “the favors of the Lord
are not exhausted” when things are going well.
But this text comes from a particularly
dark time in Israel’s history. The author is addressing people who are reeling
in shock and disbelief at the destruction of Jerusalem, including their Temple.
They wonder if God has abandoned them.
In this setting, the author makes
a bold proclamation of faith. He interrupts his lament with an unexpected declaration
of surety: “I will call this to mind, as my reason to have hope: The favors
of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent....”
‘Is This the All-beautiful City?’
As we approach the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of
September 11, we no doubt find memories and pictures of that
day etched in our minds and hearts. We may find it easy to
identify with the time in Jewish history from which Lamentations
emerged. We remember well the feelings of distress, the sudden
loss of security, the anguished search for some word of God
in which to find meaning or comfort.
At the ecumenical service in
Washington, D.C., last year on September 14,
a National Day of Prayer, Rabbi Joshua Haberman selected this text from Lamentations
to proclaim. In the midst of mourning, he read a word of hope.
‘I Called Upon Your Name’
Shortly after September 11, 2001, I was present in a small group
of people gathered for prayer. Our leader had placed a black shawl on a table
in the center of our circle, explaining that her grandmother had crocheted the
shawl during the Depression. My eyes were drawn to the brightly colored flowers
that decorated its edges. With no money for colored yarn in the Depression era,
she had made these flowers from scraps left over from earlier projects.
Our leader admitted that she
was not at first inclined to keep the shawl when it came to her. Over time,
however, this symbol of hope from a time of insecurity and fear had become a
treasure and a comfort. I have often thought of this shawl—black edged with
brightness—since that day.
Times of pain and sorrow often
cause us to reach for comfort and assurance from family and friends, from God,
from our own history and experience. This well-worn cape is a concrete symbol
of one person’s vibrant hope in the midst of darkness. One can only imagine
the prayers whispered by this woman as her fingers added those bright flowers.
This shawl carries the spirit of Lamentations, with its audacious hope in
the midst of hopelessness. The author of Lamentations reminds
us in our own times of crisis, both personal and worldwide,
to use the sacred gift of memory. We are challenged to pick
up the precious threads of our own experience of God’s fidelity
and to hear there our reason to hope, an invitation to open
ourselves to God’s mercies renewed each morning.