On this Laetare Sunday with its wonderful readings that focus our attention upon the rich, saving love of God, it is tempting to dwell with them for some time. But we will continue to reflect on this long-neglected book of Scripture, the book of Lamentations, which in Hebrew is called “Eka” – the Book of How. How did this happen? How did God allow this to happen? How was God so angry? The second poem is closely related to the first and we continue to hear primarily from the voice of the Narrator across the 22 three-line verses of the poem – although there a few phrases of others that interject the narrative. In the first poem, the Narrator had focused on all the sins of Daughter Zion – how she had been so unfaithful with her many lovers and in her nakedness and filth. But now in this second acrostic (using successive letters of the Hebrew Alphabet) poem, his focus turns from Daughter Zion to Godself. He acknowledges that this is not a sign of God’s volatile anger, but of the justice of God. He has used the Babylonians as his instrument to bring about this destruction. The Narrator then begins to inventory all of the destruction, verse-upon-verse, through the first 10 verses. The language is heated, angry and violent in its descriptions of the destruction and ruin that the people of Jerusalem have experienced. But then in verse 11, something different happens. It is as if through the first 30 verses of the book, the Narrator has remained aloof and a distant observer of all of this destruction. But in verse 11 this begins to break down:
My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns;
my bile is poured out on the ground
because of the destruction of my people,
because infants and babes faint in the streets of the city. (Lamentations 2:11)
All of the distance and separation of the narrator from the destruction and devastation begins to disappear. It is as if he moves from his soapbox or platform and descends into the dirt and the mire to sit with the woman and join her in her world of pain and affliction. He is no longer a mere reported and observer – he is now a participant in the shame and destruction. And the change that this brings about is palpable.
What can I say for you, to what compare you, O daughter Jerusalem?
To what can I liken you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter Zion?
For vast as the sea is your ruin; who can heal you? (Lamentations 2:13)
He had not even acknowledged that Daughter Zion even existed, let alone that she mattered. Now, after all of his terrible vitriolic accusations against her fidelity and sexual slurs, he is able to name her and offer a new name, a new title of redemption: O Virgin Daughter Zion!
This is what happens when we move from being a mere observer of someone’s grief and pain and allows ourselves the privilege of entering into the pain with them. All that she had wanted is someone to see and hear her pain – and the Narrator now offers this to her. Yet, just by witnessing to it, he transforms her pain. He now sees and knows that it is unspeakable and incomparable.
Chapter 2 is full of unbridled anger at God.
This poem springs from anger.
Yet it is a prayer that we can imitate.
“It creates a rhetoric of fury, a swirling language of pain, distrust, and betrayal, both divine and human.” Kathleen O’Connor
Nothing about human life is inappropriate for divine attention.
“Daughter Zion does not ask for restoration, the cessation of pain,
reversal of fortune, or even for the return of her beloved children.
She asks only that Yahweh see, attend to, recognise her suffering…
She asks for a witness and that God be that witness.”