I have been glued to the news this week. First thing in the morning, I rush for the papers. Repeatedly during the day, I click on the news updates on my computer. At 5:30, I stop everything and turn on the TV news. I need to find out how the folks in Japan and the freedom fighters in Libya and Yemen and Bahrain are faring. But mostly, truth be told, I’m focusing on the unfolding disasters washing over the people of Japan. Earthquake, floods, fires, and the specter of nuclear meltdown. How much can a people be asked to bear? How much can a people endure? Where is God in all of this?
This week I’ve found myself returning again and again to hymns and to scripture—places where I find solace, places where I find strength, and, yes, places where I find hope. The first words of a communion hymn keep playing in my mind—“Let all mortal flesh keep silent.”
Sometimes all you can do is keep silent. Sometimes all you can do is let the waves of sadness, grief and fear wash over you and those you love. Sometimes all you can do is sit with the pain. Sit in silence and take it all in. This may be one of those times—a time for silence.
Not long after 9/11—maybe just a few days—I was driving back from the grocery store. I was listening to NPR—feeding my hunger for news about that unfolding disaster—when I heard a commentator say that in days of national mourning, orthodox Jews read from only two books in the Bible: Job and the Book of Lamentations, two books of the Bible we Episcopalians often overlook.
Perhaps you remember Job—a man visited with multiple disasters, a man who had almost everything he held dear taken from him. Perhaps you remember Job—the man who, in his grief, tore his garments and sat down on a heap of ashes—sitting still with the pain and the loss and the grief he encountered. Job’s friends joined him on the ash heap. They sat with him in silence for seven days. And then they listened to his rage, they listened to his lament.
Both Job and Lamentations point to the important role lament plays in the midst of deep suffering. In verse after verse, the poet of Lamentations cries out from the depths of her pain. “Is there any sorrow like my sorrow?” Pulling out all the stops, she says, “For these things I weep: my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me….” As she surveys the rubble in Jerusalem, she asks, “For as vast as the sea is your ruins; who can heal you?” “Who can heal you?” Do you hear her words echoing through the world in which we live?
We live in a moment of lament—a moment for honoring the pain, the grief, the loss and horror that have swept over Japan in the last ten days and a moment for railing against the carnage unfolding in Libya. A moment for lamenting the pain in our world.
Yet the poet of Lamentations doesn’t stay in that place of grief and pain and loss. She holds on to a hope; she holds on to God’s promise. In the midst of her lament, the poet says,
The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is
wormwood and gall.
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
His mercies are new every morning.
Do you hear a note of confidence rising from her lament? Confidence in God whose faithfulness to his promises is far greater than we can ever imagine—especially in times of horror, especially in times like this. Confidence in God’s faithfulness—that’s what gets the poet of Lamentations through the night. That’s what launches her on a journey to hope.
Confidence in God’s faithfulness to her promises is also what launches Abraham and Sarah on their journey. Think of it, God sends a barren couple, an elderly couple, a couple well past their prime, on a journey into the unknown and promises them not only land and descendents as numerous as all the stars in the heavens but also that they will a blessing to all the families in the world. What a promise!
Think of it—an elderly couple on a long journey into the unknown. We know that theirs was not an easy journey—famine, warfare, even God’s command that they sacrifice their only son were all part of the journey. And yet on they went holding tight to their confidence in God’s faithfulness. Trusting in God’s promise.
Both this week as I’ve looked out at the horrors in our world and in those moments in my life when I’ve cried out with the poet of Lamentations, “Is there any sorrow like my sorrow?”, I’ve found myself, like Abraham and Sarah, turning to God’s promise even in the face of disaster. I’ve found myself clinging to God’s promise –clinging to the last words Jesus says to his disciples as he meets them at a mountain in Galilee, “…I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
God with us. In our suffering and in our sorrow.
God with us. In our journeys and in our resting places.
God with us. Watching over our going out and our coming in, from this time forth for evermore.
God with us—even to the end of the age.
God with us assuring us in the words of that great hymn “How Firm a Foundation
Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed!/For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;/I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,/upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
That’s a promise you can count on.