Written by Pastor Ed
Due to the nature of the delivery of Pastor Ed’s sermon, interspersed with congregational hymns, the audio recording is not available.
However, below is the text of Pastor’s Ed’s introduction and conclusion. We invite you to read Lamentations.
April 26, 2015
The book of Lamentations, as we have it in our Bibles, is an interesting piece of literature and a window into what the world was like for the children of Israel after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. While traditionally it has been assigned to Jeremiah and thus follows Jeremiah in our Bibles, there are many good reasons to suggest Jeremiah was not the author and in the Hebrew Bible it is not placed with the book of Jeremiah ,in fact it is not even with the Prophets scroll, but rather in the section called the Writings, along with Esther, Ruth, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. In the Jewish liturgicala year it is read every year on Tish b’Ab to commemorate the destruction of the temple.
As a piece of literature, it is a highly crafted work. It consists of 5 poems, thus the 5 chapters. Whether they were all written by the same person isn’t clear, but what is clear is that they were put into their present order by one person. We miss the poetry and structure in our translations, but let me give you some idea.
There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. If you look at chapters 1,2, 4 and 5 you will notice they each have 22 verses, or stanzas if you think in poetry terms – verse numbers were added much later.
Chapters 1,2 and 4 are in fact, acrostic poems where the first line of each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And while chapter 5 is not an acrostic poem, it still maintains the 22 stanza structure.
Chapter 3, the central piece of the book, contains 66 verses, divided into 22 3 line stanzas, and it too is an acrostic poem with each of the 3 lines in the stanza beginning with the same letter, and each stanza using a successive letter.
And then to complete the structure as a whole, the 5 poems are arranged in what is called a chiasm, with a structure that looks like this
A – Chapter 1
B – Chapter 2
C – Chapter 3
B – Chapter 4
A – Chapter 5
So there are similar themes in Chapters 1 and 5, chapters 2 and 4, and chapter 3 serves as the focal point, as we shall see.
Over all it is a cry of lament over the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army in 587 B.C. And it raises the question, “How do we lament tragedy in our lives or in the life of our nation or the world?” I’m not sure we do a very good job, and so this morning I’m simply going to read these poems of lament and allow you to hear and contemplate our own laments. We are not going to project the readings, because I want you to hear the words, rather than read them. We will be projecting some images for you to contemplate as you listen. And between each poem we will sing a hymn.
Hear then these cries of lament.
Hymn – I will come to you in the silence STS 49
“the elders of daughter Zion sit on the ground in silence” – Slide 7
Hymn – Create in me a clean heart
Hymn – Great is thy faithfulness HWB 327
Hymn – My life flows on HWB 580
We don’t have many songs of lament in our hymnal, but one song that I thought could express some of the sentiments of Lamentations is number 579 in our hymnal. Many of the spirituals that grow out of the African-American culture of slavery are laments. This isn’t a spiritual, but it is written by an African- American and is sometimes referred to as the Black National Anthem. It speaks both of the struggle of slavery and racism as well as the hope and triumph that is assured in God. I suspect this is a quite new hymn, so I invite you to take your hymnals and turn to number 579 and join in singing, “Lift every voice and sing.”