How to Grieve

This devotional is written by Matt Coombs. Matt is one of the leaders at St Mary's and is married to Pip.
The book of Lamentations is a collection of ancient poems. They read differently from Paul’s letters or the gospels. There are characters who come and go.

The first character we meet is the narrator, who acts like a distant objective reporter.

Lamentations 1

How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.

2 Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are on her cheeks. Among all her lovers there is no one to comfort her. All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.

3 After affliction and harsh labour, Judah has gone into exile. She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place. All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

4 The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed festivals. All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan, her young women grieve, and she is in bitter anguish.

The narrator begins by sharing about a city who is personified and likened to widow (1). Historically we suspect this is in reference to when Jerusalem was attacked by Babylonians (596 B.C.) and the people were taken from their homes, work, temple and forced to live in exile.

Have you also found yourself in a situation where your whole world appears to have imploded?

The narrator continues:

5 Her foes have become her masters; her enemies are at ease. The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins. Her children have gone into exile, captive before the foe.

6 All the splendour has departed from Daughter Zion. Her princes are like deer that find no pasture; in weakness they have fled before the pursuer.

Lamentations begins with a decimated city, and only a few people remaining in the rubble and ashes.

7 In the days of her affliction and wandering Jerusalem remembers all the treasures that were hers in days of old. When her people fell into enemy hands, there was no one to help her. Her enemies looked at her and laughed at her destruction.

8 Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean. All who honoured her despise her, for they have all seen her naked; she herself groans and turns away.

9 Her filthiness clung to her skirts; she did not consider her future. Her fall was astounding; there was none to comfort her. 'Look, Lord, on my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed.'

Part way through verse 9 the narrator is interrupted and the woman, the city speaks.

 "Look, Lord, on my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed."

 The narrator again:

10 The enemy laid hands on all her treasures; she saw pagan nations enter her sanctuary - those you had forbidden to enter your assembly.

11 All her people groan as they search for bread; they barter their treasures for food to keep themselves alive.

The woman speaks again, but this time for longer:

 'Look, Lord, and consider, for I am despised.'

12 'Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the Lord brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?

13 'From on high he sent fire, sent it down into my bones. He spread a net for my feet and turned me back. He made me desolate, faint all the day long.

14 'My sins have been bound into a yoke[b]; by his hands they were woven together. They have been hung on my neck, and the Lord has sapped my strength. He has given me into the hands of those I cannot withstand.

15 'The Lord has rejected all the warriors in my midst; he has summoned an army against me to crush my young men. In his winepress the Lord has trampled Virgin Daughter Judah.

16 'This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit. My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed.'

Here we encounter the woman wrestling with suffering. Who’s fault is this calamity? “Is any suffering like my suffering?”

She starts by saying it’s God’s fault (12).
Then she says it’s because of her sin (14)
Then she blames the attacking soldiers (15).

This is not really about working out who is to blame. This is the incoherent rambling of someone who is suffering. When we suffer we often try to rationalise it, to make sense of it. But we often don’t get very far.

The narrator then comes back with a little more objectivity.

17 Zion stretches out her hands, but there is no one to comfort her. The Lord has decreed for Jacob that his neighbours become his foes; Jerusalem has become an unclean thing among them.

Then the woman comes to speak again, only this time she has a lot to say. 

18 'The Lord is righteous, yet I rebelled against his command. Listen, all you peoples; look on my suffering. My young men and young women have gone into exile.

19 'I called to my allies but they betrayed me. My priests and my elders perished in the city while they searched for food to keep themselves alive.

20 'See, Lord, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed, for I have been most rebellious. Outside, the sword bereaves; inside, there is only death.

21 'People have heard my groaning, but there is no one to comfort me. All my enemies have heard of my distress; they rejoice at what you have done. May you bring the day you have announced so that they may become like me.

22 'Let all their wickedness come before you; deal with them as you have dealt with me because of all my sins. My groans are many and my heart is faint.'

These are heavy poems of lament. I think they feel so difficult to engage with emotionally because culturally we don't lament well. We are often better at denying our feelings.

There is much about the last year that needs to be lamented.

Lockdown. Racial inequality and violence. Lost time. Lost opportunities. Postponed weddings, birthdays, holidays. Wanting to date but not being able to meet other people. Missed life events.

In a culture of denial we don't know how to deal with our own pain. So we minimise it, push it down, we distract ourselves, we put it off.

Don't put off the process of grieving and lamenting what has been lost.

Lamentations names what is wrong, what is out of order in God's world, what keeps human beings from thriving in all their creative potential. Simple acts of lament expose these conditions, name them, open them to grief and anger and make them visible for remedy.

Bring to God all that has been lost. Come with words and express them before God, who is ready to listen and heal.

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