Monday, February 27, 2012

Lenten Devotional 07: Unbearable

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Scripture reading: Lamentations 1:1-20

Jerusalem has fallen; naked and despised she turns her face away (586 BC/BCE). The author of the book of Lamentations evokes the pain of the people of Judah. This biblical poetry captures the grief of death, unlike most things I’ve ever seen.

As I read this text, I imagined death, imprisonment, rape, desolation, humiliation, self-loathing, and the greatest of sorrow. I felt the primal urge to cry out in a mix of terror and rage. Why the intensity? I’m not a Jew, it wasn’t my holy city that was destroyed, I’ve read worse, I’ve seen worse, I’ve experienced nothing of that magnitude, and I’m (at most) two thousand five hundred ninety eight years removed from Jerusalem’s exile into Babylon. What’s the big deal?

The poetic stanzas of our pericope are as raw and gritty as the worst parts of life; indeed, the pain it expresses is at the heart of all human sorrow. I hate piety and I hate sin (in the sense that I’d rather pretend it wasn’t real) but then people die, love turns to hate, people suffer, and no one seems to care about anyone more than they care for themselves. Some people look at the world and say, “God’s not real,” and/or, “there’s no such thing as sin.” The primal emotion that I feel as I read this passage of scripture (which I admittedly don’t like feeling) is twofold.

First, if one has ever felt, like life just kicked their world out from under them, they will know what I felt reading Lamentations 1:1-20. One who’s had to experience the death of one (or many) loved ones knows what it is to lament. Nothing feels right, no words sound right, everyone looks at you differently, and your sorrow is not received well. And, if you’re like me in those seasons, you can’t bear looking at God without questions; nor, can you look at yourself because you don’t like what you see and what you feel.

Second, how, is this not a reason to lament? How is this anything but the result of brokenness? I’m not the holy saint telling sinners to get their act together; I’m the sinner telling the sinners: this is why redemption is real, this is why we need the grace of a loving God, this is why we repent, this is why we are baptized, and this is why we eat and drink at the Lord’s table. We are prisoners to the sin nature (v. 14). The emptiness, bitterness, self-loathing, and grief are incomprehensible. We are like bums, tossed a dime, left to rot; stripped of our self-importance. We are like Jerusalem, fallen into the control of Babylon; prisoners, slaves, paid laborers – the system owns us – this is the hegemony of the human will. Only the work of God can restore us from brokenness.   

Lord, God, we confess we are sinners, broken, and desolated, like the people of Judah. We rely on your promise to restore us. Forgive us, O Lord, of this brokenness we call sin, the pain we call reality, and the self-destruction we call the happenings of life – which make us cry out! Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and deliver us from evil. For you are Lord and you alone do the work of redemption. In the name of the one and only God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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