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"How"

The mood of World Communion Sunday is often buoyant, celebratory, triumphant! Isn’t it amazing, we gush, that Christians are sharing bread and cup across the globe, across borders, across time zones?! Isn’t this a sign of holy power?

PC(USA) Bulletin Insert for Peace and Global Witness Sunday - the image is of a mosaic dove holing a branch

Lamentations 1:1-6 and 2 Timothy 1:1-14

October 2, 2022

Dr. Todd R. Wright


The mood of World Communion Sunday is often buoyant, celebratory, triumphant! Isn’t it amazing, we gush, that Christians are sharing bread and cup across the globe, across borders, across time zones?! Isn’t this a sign of holy power?


Lamentations seems like a strange choice then.


But it fits the world that many people are living in this day –

a world of violence and natural disaster, of fear and destruction,

of brokenness and despair, of scorn and loneliness;

a world in which the usual celebrations of the season seem tone-deaf.

 

Lamentations begins with a word that translates from the Hebrew as “how”. Usually that word introduces a question. For instance:[1]


“How can God [not] know?” the psalmist says people ask when the wicked prosper.


Jeremiah asks, “How can you say, ‘We are wise … when [it has been made] into a lie?’”


And after a woman is abandoned and abused, Israel asks, “How did this criminal act come about?”


But sometimes, according to one scholar, it does not ask for an explanation or answer, it only asks us to register shock.[2]


“How lonely sits the city that was once full of people,” starts Lamentations.


“How like a widow she has become,” it continues, comparing Jerusalem to a woman who has lost her spouse, her protector, her economic support, her love!


Questions overflow. We are left to wonder: How has a princess been reduced to forced labor by foreign powers? How is it that she has no comforters? How is it that all her friends have abandoned her?


What it is really asking is … how has God allowed this to happen?

 

Do our brothers and sisters still celebrate World Communion Sunday in Ukraine or Syria or Yemen or other places torn by war; or in Puerto Rico and Cuba and Florida and other places that have been destroyed by hurricanes? Do they share the bread and cup in homeless shelters and orphanages, in holding cells and ICUs? Do people still praise God in the rubble of great cities, or beside mass graves, or even in well-ordered cemeteries with flags and flowers?


Or is the question, “How has God allowed this to happen to us?” too raw there, too real?

 

The book of Lamentations ends without an answer. Instead, it invites the reader to sit on the ground beside the widow from verse one. To sit beside her and smell the smoke, to listen to the keening that will not be comforted, to feel just as powerless as she does. And to join in the pleas that ends the book: “Restore us to yourself, O Lord. Renew our days as of old – unless you have utterly rejected us and are still angry with us beyond measure.”[3] Then the speaker waits.

 

Paul might have continued Lamentations’ mood. He is, after all, in prison when he writes to Timothy. He could have questioned God’s love and protection. But he has the benefit of knowing that God did not abandon Israel in exile, or remain angry forever, or fail to save those God loves.


Instead, he writes to dry tears and rekindle faith that has guttered like a candle in a strong wind. He reminds his mentee that he is not suffering alone, that God’s power is reliable, and that he can trust the one who guards us.

 

So perhaps that is our tightrope to walk this day:

to sit with those in this world who are suffering, acknowledging all their loss;

to remind them of God’s faithfulness;

and, in sharing the bread and cup,

to claim the history of that meal, begun on the night of Jesus arrest,

as well as the promised future of eating at a table where, according to Isaiah, God will …

“wipe away the tears from all faces and take away the disgrace from all peoples.”

And where the people gathered there will say,

“This is our God, the one for whom we have waited, so that [our Lord] might save us.”[4]


Amen


[1] Ps. 73:11, Jeremiah 8:8, and Judges 20:30
[2] From Anathea Portier Young’s commentary on the text from workingpreacher.org, 10/6/19
[3] From Lamentations 5:21-22
[4] From Isaiah 25:8-9
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