26 June 2010

Lamentations 2:2-19

"Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street." (v.19)


The book of Lamentations may not be the most familiar in the Bible, but its place in Scripture signifies something of great importance: lament is as important as praise.

Lamentations is a collection of poems written around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The poems resemble the writing of some psalms and some of the prophets, especially Jeremiah who has by tradition been associated with this book.

Unlike the psalms of lament which often move into praise, these poems of lament rarely go past cries of pain and tears of bitterness. Staying with lament is hard but, for a broken people in a broken world, in a Church that is also marked by brokenness, lament is one of the deepest responses we can make.

To lament is to name what is wrong. We do not have to be cautious before God, nor skirt politely around the things in our lives and in our world that are terrible. Lament doesn't look for answers; it powerfully and poignantly names the wrong and the pain for what it is. We lament because we must be truthful in our worship before, and of, God.

To lament is to protest. We often want to forget, to gloss over and move on. Lament makes us remember and lament means that those whose interests are best served by ignoring or forgetting are not so easily let off the hook.

To lament is to give voice to suffering and pain, to name the brokenness of the world without moralising. Today for example, whatever your view of the Iraq war, we must lament the loss and destruction that it entailed and which continues after it.

We may find that lamentation leads to praise, but we should not assume that or look for it to happen too quickly or else both our lament and our praise become hollow and superficial. In a broken world, for a broken people, lament may be our best gift and offering.

To Ponder

Does worship - in your experience - include lament? If not, why not? What is its effect when it is included?

What do you need to lament? Try writing a lamentation and addressing it to God.

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr David Hewlett

David is currently principal of The Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham. He is an ordained Anglican priest and is an authorised minister within the British Methodist Church - a relationship that he has valued enormously.