19 October 2011

"Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow"(v. 12)


We have already reflected on the sadness surrounding Jeremiah's prophecies. This passage from Lamentations brings home the tragic plight of Jerusalem after its destruction by the Babylonian armies. The city is now derelict and deserted, "How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!" (v. 1) and her people carried off into exile (verse 3). Gone too is the glory of God's temple; even "the roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals ... her priests groan" (v. 4).

Jerusalem is now at the mercy of her enemies: "Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper" (v. 5). And all this is God's punishment, as Jeremiah warned before, for her faithlessness "because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions" (v. 5).

This sad situation is recorded in a series of laments used initially, like the psalms, in a liturgical setting to help people purge their grief and sing out their sorrows. Then some generations later, when the exiles were able to return and rebuild Jerusalem, they come to have an additional meaning, reminding them of the depths out of which God has acted to save God's own people.

This use of Lamentations has a particular resonance for Christians reflecting on the life and death of Christ. These passages have been interpreted as prophetic texts foretelling Christ's suffering on the Cross, and this particular verse, "Is it nothing to you, all you pass by", has become a particular favourite though its memorable use both in Handel's Messiah and Stainer's Crucifixion. For it is only out of the depths of grief and sorrow that we begin to appreciate fully the extent of God's mercy revealed in Jesus Christ.

To Ponder

What is it that makes you feel like 'singing the blues'? Do you feel better for having done so?

Are there times in your life when you feel you have had to touch 'rock bottom' before you can begin to climb up? When have they been?

How has God spoken to you then?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

  • Sign up for e-newslettersKeep in touch with what interests you