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February 5

Lamentations 1, 1 – 7

Something to read

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;
she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting-place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate,
her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter.

Her foes have become the masters,
her enemies prosper,
because the Lord has made her suffer
for the multitude of her transgressions;
her children have gone away,
captives before the foe.

From daughter Zion has departed
all her majesty.
Her princes have become like stags
that find no pasture;
they fled without strength
before the pursuer.

Jerusalem remembers,
in the days of her affliction and wandering,
all the precious things
that were hers in days of old.
When her people fell into the hand of the foe,
and there was no one to help her,
the foe looked on mocking
over her downfall.

Something to think about

The Book of Lamentations, sitting firmly in the middle of the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible, laments the fall of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian captivity. The Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem lasted from 589 BC until 587 BC.

It left the city devastated, the palace and Temple in ruins, many dead and many others taken as prisoners to Babylon. The bitter aftermath of war included a terrible famine, the loss or exile of loved ones, the challenges of reconstruction and, most of all, a pervasive sense of spiritual abandonment.

The survivors left in Jerusalem feared that God had turned against them or even forgotten them altogether. The five poems that make up the book of Lamentations are an anguished cry by a stricken people expressing the grief and horror of war.

Each poem contains several elements: a series of complaints, a statement of guilt, a cry for God's help and a petition against enemies. But there are none of the statements of praise conventionally found in psalms of lament (eg, Psalm 22) in any of the poems.

Perhaps the burden of their sorrow was so heavy that they could not find any words of praise. Yet this is not a people who have turned altogether from God - their form of lament, which is a public, liturgical voicing of pain, is in itself a cry to God.

Deepening the sense of despair is the use of a dirge, or death wail, used in funerals, in three of the poems. This is not just the death of individuals, or even a city, being mourned - it is the death of a nation.

It is not hard to hear in the poems of Lamentations the voices of the people of Haiti, who have suffered so greatly over more than two centuries, yet still cry out to God - and to us.

Something to do

Look and listen to Christian Aid’s Haiti pages on this website, especially the prayer reflection, and hold these people in your hearts and prayers. http://www.christianaid.org.uk/haiti

Something to pray

O Christ our true peace,
who felt the desolation of death
and the fear of abandonment
deliver us who also recognise the shape of desolation
and weep.

We pray for the people of Haiti.
Give us insight to see the structures of injustice by which we profit,
and grace to cherish all people in our vulnerability,
knowing that we all live within your love.

Today’s contributor is Kathy Galloway, Christian Aid’s Head of Team in Scotland, a practical theologian, activist and writer, and member, and former leader, of the Iona Community

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