Lamentations 3 – Anger and Hope

Today we arrive at the centre and many would say the climax of the Book of Lamentations (Eka) – and the intensity of the grief and lamenting increases. A new character takes the stage with a new, more complex, and more interwoven story to tell. The voices of the Narrator and Daughter Zion vanish, to be replaced by the voice of the Geber – a strong man, a soldier, or a defender of the defenceless. When Daughter Zion wanted someone to see and hear her anguish, this new voice opens by saying that he is a man who has seen her anguish and grief. He comes straight from the battle, and he is exhausted; all of his energy is spent and he has only enough to let loose his fury on the enemy who has done this to him. For the first 21 verses of this poem in chapter 3, he directs his fury against an unnamed enemy. There are 66 one-line verses in this poem, and each of the lines begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet in patterns of threes: aleph, aleph, aleph, beth, beth, beth, gimel, gimel, gimel, daleth, daleth, daleth, etc. The intensive structure highlights the increased tension. He also repeats himself, and interweaves his narrative in such a way that we begin to feel just as entrapped and encircled as he is, within these walls that begin to press in around us. This is the way that intense grief feels. He has good reason to feel angry and frustrated at God as he provides a litany of grief against the enemy that is finally named only in verse 22, in the most extraordinary way.

In verse 22 and 23 the tone dramatically shifts and we have some of the most beautiful and powerful declarations that we find anywhere. These lines have often been put into music. You cannot say the same about the rest of the book! Even though he rails against the Lord as his enemy, he can also hold that he is still able to hope in God. As you look across these verses, a whole series of contradictions forms – that God afflicts and heals; that God causes manifold grief, and yet God is good. But this also seems real. Our lives are complex, and so is our prayer. Sometimes we have wonderful days; sometimes horrible. Often we have both together. Our prayer should reflect this complex and contrasting reality of good and bad cohabiting our lives.

The section comes to a conclusion with a prayer of repentance and remorse. It is a great prayer to assist us in our own times of grief and anguish. So let us share with the Geber in his prayer as we lift our hearts and hands in prayer to God to express our sorrow and lamenting, and so also to share in our redemption.

Sunday 5 in Lent, Year B. Part 3 of the Lamentations series.

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