Mourning as Remembrance
Reflecting on the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: One Day after Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 106:40-48
Old Testament: Jeremiah 9:12-26
Epistle: Acts 4:1-12
Psalter: Psalm 12
Old Testament: Proverbs 14:12-31
Epistle: Acts 4:1-12
God of power and justice, like Jeremiah you weep over those who wander from you, turn aside to other gods, and enter into chaos and destruction. By your tears and through your mercy, teach us your ways and write them on our hearts so that we may follow faithfully the path you show us. Amen.
Thus says the Lord of hosts:
Consider and call for the mourning women to come;
send for the skilled women to come;
let them quickly raise a dirge over us,
so that our eyes may run down with tears
and our eyelids flow with water.
For a sound of wailing is heard from Zion:
“How we are ruined!
We are utterly shamed
because we have left the land,
because they have cast down our dwellings” (Jeremiah 9:17-19)
“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.”―Aeschylus
The people in Jeremiah’s day are facing unprecedented events. The Babylonians have destroyed Jerusalem, the temple, and are in the process of deporting many of the inhabitants to Babylon. It seems that there are too many reasons for God’s people to grieve, mourning the killing of their loved ones, mourning the loss of their beloved city and temple, and mourning the loss of those taken off as subjects of a foreign power.
One of the key features of mourning is remembering when times were better. When people lose a loved one in the midst of the morning, they reminisce about good times. They reminisce about the funny moments, they reminisce about the presence of their loved one that gave them such joy, and now they grieve. They mourn because that all has been taken away. People can also grieve for the changes of life. We don’t have to experience the death of a person to experience grief. It has been said that people fear change. That is not quite right. There’s plenty of change that we welcome. It is not changed that we fear. What we fear is loss. People who talk about the good old days talk about a time that no longer is. They fear that the current days are not as good as what went before because there are things that are no more. Of course, when people talk about the good old days, they usually do so with selective amnesia. The past had just as many challenges as the present, just as many things to mourn as the present. When we look back, we tend to forget the things that we… well… prefer to forget. The good old days were not all that good, but as they say, ignorance is bliss.
I am sure the people of Judah also reminisced in the midst of the calamity. They remember the days when the temple stood glimmering in the sunlight and could be seen from all directions as people made their way toward holy Mount Zion. The fields were ready for harvest. Children laughed and played, and there were times when it seemed as always right with the world. But now those times were gone and the only response to the judgment of God upon Judah is to mourn. The future is uncertain, but it won’t be like the idyllic past.
The human race has been mourning perhaps as long as it has existed. We mourn the death of loved ones. We mourn the inexplicable suffering of children. We grieve over lives that never seem to have a chance to prosper, and in the midst of it all we sometimes wonder where God is. The God that was with us in prosperity seems absent in our time with need.
It will take some time, but in the darkness of the situation, God’s people will come to understand that the God who led them to the Promised Land the God that was with them throughout their history, the God who allowed Israel’s enemies to defeat them because of their lack of faithfulness to the covenant, is the same God that will journey with them into exile. The God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will reside with them in Babylon.
Even though the Old Testament proclaims often that the God of Israel is also the God of the world, that their God is the God of all of the nations, Israel could not help but claim Yahweh as their own tribal deity, the way other nations viewed their gods. It would take the Babylonian exile for them to come to realize that their God is indeed everywhere that they’re God is even in Babylon among their oppressors, among their captors. And this God loves even the Babylonians.
No one wants to mourn, and no one with compassion wants to see anyone else grieve, but mourning can give way to new insight. Sometimes the loss of something helps us to gain a new perspective. And that’s what this time of exile will be for God’s people as they take their faith into a strange land. They may sit by the waters of Babylon and hang up their harps and not sing the songs of Zion in a strange land (Psalm 137:1-6), but that will last only for a little while. As they reflect upon what it means to be God’s people, even in a foreign land, they will manage to find joy by the Euphrates River as a new generation of Jews is born and raised in that strange place that will become home; but will hear stories of the homeland they have never seen. Some 70 years later, some of God’s people who were born in exile will return home to the land that God had given Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They will settle in the land known to their grandfathers and grandmothers, and they will be reminded that their God is indeed with them and will always keep the covenant.
Jesus will tell his disciples that he will be with them always, even until the end of the age. Come what may—in mourning, in sorrow, in good times, and in rejoicing—God is always with his people. Jesus, our Lord and Savior is always present.
PRAYER: Hear our prayers, God of power, and through the ministry of your Son free us from the grip of the tomb, that we may desire you as the fullness of life and proclaim your saving deeds to all the world. Amen.
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