by Rev. Ian Arnold

I wonder what you make of the word “lament”. It’s not a widely-used word nowadays, but it is all about sadness and regret. You ‘lament’ the loss of something you once had which meant a great deal to you. And it is not something superficially felt. A lament comes from a deep and painful place in us. It can cause people to ‘howl’, in the sense of letting out pain and anguish.

The book of Lamentations is the letting out of deeply felt pain and anguish. It is traditionally thought to have been written by the prophet Jeremiah and it is the outpouring of his grief and regret that something his people had once enjoyed was now lost, and in fact devastated. It was almost too much and unimaginable.

In 586 B.C the powerful Babylonians over-ran the tiny, still independent, ‘southern’ kingdom of Judah, invaded its capital, Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and carried away its treasures. It was a monumental blow and loss – loss of independence, loss of confidence in God, loss of faith, loss of identity as a people and profound humiliation.

But as in Jeremiah, Lamentations doesn’t absolve the people of responsibility for this terrible state of affairs. To the contrary, it drives home the message that what had happened was the consequence of their own bad behaviour and of lives contemptuously lived in defiance of God’s laws and order. Yet, there is hope. It is not as if this small book of the Bible, just five short Chapters as it is, is all doom and gloom/

Now transfer all this to ourselves.

There are those occasions when high ideals, principles and moral values we hold are invaded and brought down by hostile forces, as in an irritable display of judgement, anger or lust.

What needs to follow is our sadness and regret, not just as something passingly acknowledge on the surface, but a real, deeply-felt lament. What have I lost? What has brought me to this terrible state of affairs?

What we can’t do is side-step our responsibility in the matter, resolutely blaming circumstances or others. We must, ourselves, ‘carry the can’.

And in the midst of it all, the Lord keeps alive a flickering hope which will in time flare up and lead us forward and out of this dark, anguished and unhappy state of mind.