sermon was preached
“How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!….
she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks….”
From our OT reading today, this is part of a heart-rending lament.
an unknown contemporary of Jeremiah,
has grown up with a nation and a faith
centred around Jerusalem and the Temple.
Now there is nothing but the ruins of the city,
the people transported to Babylon, the temple razed to the ground.
The Book of Lamentations is just that - a lament –
a cri de coeur - all is lost – the end has come –
there is nothing left but tears.
from the choir will sing
Tallis’ setting of our text during Communion.
In the English translation
you tend to miss one aspect of the poetry –
This chapter is in the form of an acrostic poem.
It has 22 verses, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Each verse begins with the successive letters of the alphabet.
Aleph, Beth, Ghimel, etc.
An alphabet of sorrow.
Every generation including our own has cause to weep –
and we too can construct our own alphabets of woe –
I wonder which words you would chose??
A is for Auschwitz
B is for Blackmail
C is for Crack Cocaine
It might look grim as a frieze on the nursery wall,
but as God’s children seeking to grow in the faith,
maybe we need to learn from it:
Drug abuse and Extortion
Fascism and Genocide
Homophobia and Islamophobia
I’ll leave you to work your way through to Xenophobia
and the XYZ of human pain…
not write Hebrew acrostic poetry,
but our world still has its alphabet of fears and tears
not live in the ruins of Jerusalem,
but our world still bears the marks of devastation,
heartbreak and ruin wherever we look.
problem with Lamentations
is that really it has no answer for us –
the very last verse of the Book leaves us
with the thought that maybe God
has indeed deserted Jerusalem for ever. –
it is ultimately a cry of despair
have ever been in total despair –
where the world just seems finally to have got the better of you –
you will know how that feels.
will perhaps take comfort
from the fact that this scream of despair
is here in the heart of scripture –
it is part of what sometimes happens,
even to those seeking God’s way.
the Book of Lamentations is not the last word
on the sin and suffering of humanity.
turn to Christ - In Luke 19:41-2, we
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it”
The sins and sorrows of 587 BC are still there.
So what does Christ do?
down into the city –
for the deeper the sin and sorrow and devastation of the city,
the more he is drawn to it -
For Christ is love –
and love does not walk away,
love does hold grudges,
love does not rejoice in the discomfort of others –
love simply wants to be alongside those who suffer –
and if that means sharing the tears and the sorrow, then so be it…..
Today we will bring to the foot of the Lent cross a cup -
this reminds us of the Garden of Gethsemane –
when Jesus in agony prays
“Lord may this cup (the cup of suffering) pass from me
– but – but not my will but yours be done”
So Christ learns that God’s way of defeating suffering
is not to avoid it, but to share it –
if need be drinking the bitter cup to the last dregs.
then is the Gospel
for those whose lives are in ruins and crashing about them ––
Christ is with you in your tears and sorrow.
Christ, the temple may be destroyed –
everything you held near and dear may be taken from you –
yes you may weep bitter tears -
But I will weep with you –
Nor is that the end.
temple may be destroyed says Christ
but my Body is the new temple
and after it has been destroyed in death I will rise to new life.
Today we give thanks for the life of Sheila Mitchell.
and indeed all who those near and dear to us
who have gone on before us.
And here then are other tears –
the tears of mourning for the loss of loved ones
But the message is the same.
God sees our sorrow and shares it with us.
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of
thou art with me…”
God does not prevent the destruction of our earthly body
any more than he prevents the destruction of Jerusalem.
But what he does do is
promise that his sharing in our suffering will go
all the way to the gates of death and beyond.
Gospel reading for the 1st Sunday of Lent talks about
Jesus going into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil
and to be with the wild beasts.
Yet again the same theme returns:
in many ways a demonic and dying world,
beset by wild beasts set upon devouring God’s children,
just as the Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold
in the days of Israel’s earlier tribulations….
And what does Christ do?
He goes into the desert – into the devil’s heartland – saying
I did not
come to observe the struggles of humanity from a safe distance.
I came to share in the struggle and the sweat and the tears.
though you wrestle will beasts in the desert,
there I am with you, and angels shall surround me
Yesterday Tony Blair was criticized for bringing prayer into politics.
But the Gospel is all about politics –
it is about sharing the sorrows and heartaches of a broken humanity,
weeping in the ruined city
and seeking to rebuild something nearer God’s Kingdom.
These things are not easy.
God doesn’t always give clear answers to our prayers.
Many of us have prayed about Iraq
and not a few of us have reached an understanding of God’s will
quite different from the Prime Minister.
Wrestling with the issues of a troubled world is just that
And sometimes we will not agree
on either the problem or the solution.
But whilst tears are shed, and sorrow remains,
we are all called to face the tears of the world
and seek God’s way as best we can –
through prayer and fasting and wrestling with the truth.
So we begin Lent together.
May it be a time when we all
address the great issues
the alphabet of sin, evil, suffering and death.
May it be a time when we seek
however hard that is to discern.
May we learn that in every crisis
Christ is with us
And that when we weep,
he weeps with us -
And when we have
finished reciting our alphabet of woe
let us recall the Good News of one who said:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega” the beginning and the end –
In this life I will weep alongside you
In the world to come I will wipe every tear from your eye.