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Lamentations 1:1-6

It Is not immediately clear to me why anyone would choose this text. Why not the more encouraging messages in Luke and 2 Timothy? Why not the alternate “psalm” of Lamentations 3? At least that has “Great is Thy Faithfulness” in there and we could end with a rousing chorus.

The majority of Lamentations has no such redeeming qualities. It is a story of destruction and demolition. Personal destitution (v. 2), national destruction (v. 1), theological and liturgical ruin (v. 4, 6). The poet continually finds more intense and uncomfortable imagery to drive home the reality of exile. Unfaithfulness becomes adultery becomes rape becomes poverty, homelessness, and infanticide. A little glimmer of “great is your faithfulness” hardly makes up for it. Ugh. I would take that last verse of Psalm 137 over five swirling, non-narrative lament poems with imagery almost too thick to read. This whole book requires a trigger warning before preaching it. (That is not hyperbole. I suggest letting people know, at least at the beginning of the sermon that you will be dealing with very intense imagery that may be difficult for them).

So…why? Well, we simply cannot avoid the difficult parts of Scripture. One of the gifts of the lectionary is that it does not allow us to hide from the difficult parts of Scripture that we do not like. It reminds us that Sunday morning is God’s and not ours. It requires us to tell the whole story and not only the stories we feel like telling. The story of 587-586 and the Exile is a necessary text for our time as we are collectively sorting through what it means to live in a post-Christian world. Those of us who, like me, are young and headstrong and excited about living in a hostile world because it clarifies our purpose may not be able to wrap our heads around why the Church’s loss of status requires mourning. But the truth is that even though the fall of Christendom is a positive thing for the Church, it still requires mourning if we are to receive the judgment and the exile appropriately.

Lamentations is effective on multiple levels that we have available to us as preachers. There is a tension in the text between mourning over the sin of Jerusalem and its effects and a righteous near-anger at God’s allowing the wrath that many generations deserve to fall on just one.

Psychologically, it is a necessary, bold and even dangerous text for those who have experienced trauma. You will have people in your congregation who will react very powerfully to this text because of their personal trauma. You may even be tapping into the tragedies of your community without knowing it. In my little desert town, we are ten minutes from one of the largest Japanese internment camps of WWII. Preaching about exile has a different flavor when the parsonage’s garage is built with scrap timber that was first used to hold American citizens because they were perceived as threatening on the basis of race. Or when suspicious officer-involved shootings keep happening.

You will also be connecting to the theological narratives of your community. These very well may be narratives of descent–jobs leaving, families crumbling, environmental tragedy and diminishing hope. It only takes a cursory look at our national situation to understand that these narratives are incredibly powerful. But Lamentations gives us a different answer.

Lamentations’ answer to the narratives of descent is to poetically and prophetically speak the truth about the situation, to name names and call out the real situation for the people to hear. In fact, the Jews read it every year during the month of Ab, in the withering heat of late summer. Lamentations, if we allow it, gives us no way to avoid mourning our loss. It is a necessary text for us to mourn the sin of Christendom and for us to move forward in a new and fresh way through exile and into the new life that God has in store for the Church. How important for us to be honest about the state of the Church in North America as a people that has turned to our political lovers and found none to comfort us, check out if you may How important for us to be honest about the church’s tendency to break our covenant with God in favor of a life that is just a little less holy in order to be more palatable. How important for us as leaders to be honest about the way that we have been complicit in our churches’ sin.

We could go on. The reversal of salvation-in-history (going back to exile and hard servitude) is difficult to hear. The failure of Zion to attract people to her festivals and desolate gates (v. 4) strikes a little too close to home. The weeping woman, sitting in the dust with tear-stains coming down her cheeks would probably look like us if we allowed ourselves to be so undignified.

Maybe the sin in this culture, the sin in our churches, is that we would rather be indignant about the state of things than undignified in our mourning over sin. If we as leaders are not able to lead our people in that mourning, to express from the pulpit what Scripture is so clear about, then I fear we have learned nothing.

So if you are bold enough to preach from this text, may you inhabit the tension between mourning over the sin that brings deserved judgment and reserved anger at the God who has allowed it all to fall here in this one place. And may you resist the temptation to move too quickly on to hope. To do that would be to rob your people of the mourning that their spirits need.