Over my lifetime I have lived in sixteen houses for various periods, ranging from several months to eighteen years. I also hold both UK and Australian passports. Throughout my life I have always had a sense of impermanence, of temporary ownership. Even living now in our own retirement house I am only too aware that again, at some time, we will probably move on. So I personally find it somewhat difficult to put myself in the shoes of those for whom land and place are of paramount significance. For me, my attachment to places has had more to do with the people that I have known and returning to that place after they have gone is like visiting an empty shell, populated only by memories.
Trying to identify with Lamentations is made more difficult by the knowledge that their exile was not the end for Judah. There would be a return to the Land, even if it was only their children and grandchildren who would make it. Furthermore there is also the assurance, through the prophet Jeremiah, that God is still with them as they seek him in the foreign land. There is ample evidence in the Old Testament that Yahweh is the God in and over all the nations, not just Israel and Judah.
If Jeremiah (as tradition has it) did write Lamentations then, knowing all this, it is remarkable that he has captured the passion and grief of the exiles in such a meticulously constructed poem…
Zion stretches out her hands
but there is no one to comfort her.
Your wound is as deep as the sea.
Who can heal you?
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.
Then again, Jeremiah may have had more reason to grieve than most. His ministry, his warnings had been rejected. He knew that the Exile could have been avoided, but even down to the very end, when all his other predictions had come to pass, his people had ignored him and tried to flee to Egypt. Now he could only hopelessly stand by as life fell apart for them.
And yet… in the middle of all this loss and emptiness, Jeremiah again holds out the message of hope…
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion:
I will wait for him.”
At the lowest moments in life, when we have failed and brought shame and disaster on ourselves, when the future looks impossibly bleak and when we have lost all that we hold dear. For the refugee, the bereaved, the destitute, the betrayed, the lonely and the outcast, the LORD, Yahweh, is the ever-present, constant anchor in a turbulent world. Say to yourself, “Yahweh is my portion; I will wait for him. His compassions never fail.” And believe it!