By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from Lamentations 2:10-18
10 The elders of daughter Zion
sit on the ground in silence;
they have thrown dust on their heads
and put on sackcloth;
the young girls of Jerusalem
have bowed their heads to the ground.
11 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.
12 They cry to their mothers,
“Where is bread and wine?”
as they faint like the wounded
in the streets of the city,
as their life is poured out
on their mothers’ bosom.
13 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?
14 Your prophets have seen for you
false and deceptive visions;
they have not exposed your iniquity
to restore your fortunes,
but have seen oracles for you
that are false and misleading.
15 All who pass along the way
clap their hands at you;
they hiss and wag their heads
at daughter Jerusalem;
“Is this the city that was called
the perfection of beauty,
the joy of all the earth?”
16 All your enemies
open their mouths against you;
they hiss, they gnash their teeth,
they cry: “We have devoured her!
Ah, this is the day we longed for;
at last we have seen it!”
17 The Lord has done what he purposed,
he has carried out his threat;
as he ordained long ago,
he has demolished without pity;
he has made the enemy rejoice over you,
and exalted the might of your foes.
18 Cry aloud to the Lord!
O wall of daughter Zion!
Let tears stream down like a torrent
day and night!
Give yourself no rest,
your eyes no respite!
While the author of Lamentations is unnamed, the book is widely believed to have been written by the prophet Jeremiah. We can read in the book of Jeremiah how he pleaded repeatedly with his people to repent and return to the Lord, and how time after time they refused. Then, in 586 B.C., the terrible might of the Babylonian Empire descended, and Jerusalem was burned. The Jewish people were either killed, or taken into captivity. Jeremiah witnessed this devastation, and today we can read his words of grief: “My eyes are spent with weeping…”
On Palm Sunday, we heard that, centuries later, Jesus also wept over the city of Jerusalem. He knew the city would again be destroyed in 70 A.D. and its people would either be killed or taken captive. Is this not history repeating itself, with Jesus stepping into the well-worn sandals of God’s mightily abused and often unsuccessful prophets?
The coming of Jesus is not a repetition of the Old Testament, but its fulfillment. In today’s reading, children cry to their mothers: Where is bread, where is wine? Where is that for which we hunger and thirst? Where, in this vast sea of ruin, is the one who can heal us? Lamentations offers up the questions; and in today’s gospel reading, Jesus provides the answer.
Jesus takes bread and wine, blesses them, and offers them up as his body and blood for the redemption of the world. Jerusalem will be destroyed once more a few decades after this first Holy Eucharist, but not before death itself is destroyed. While Jeremiah may have lamented that his earthly mission ended in failure, Jesus’ earthly mission ended in triumph. It’s a brutal kind of triumph, and at times over these next three days we may wish to look away. But let us keep awake and watch. The Answer to Lamentations will break the bonds of death so that no amount of devastation which follows can rob us of our joy.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of East Tennessee
The Diocese of Kurunegala – Extra Provincial to the Archbishop of Canterbury