Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Woman With Dead Child, Käthe Kollwitz, 1903 (Tate Gallery, London)
Thou, O Lord, remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation. Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time? Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old. But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us.
— Lamentations 5:19-22
Lamentations ends on an inauspicious note, with this short prayer turning towards God and asking once again for redemption, but finally acknowledging this may not be forthcoming. There is a possibility that God has rejected His people, utterly and finally. Such was the discomfort of those reading these lamentations in temple services over the generations that the penultimate line was repeated after the final one, presumably to lift the tone slightly above utter hopelessness. As theologian R.K. Harrison wrote in 1973,
"Several Old Testament prophecies conclude on a negative or inauspicious note (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:14; Isaiah 66:24; Malachi 4:6), as does Lamentations. Consequently in synagogue readings it became customary to conclude such compositions with a repetition of the preceding verse, so that under these circumstances verse 21 would be read again after verse 22."1
The Hebrew Bible is highly unusual in that it records history from the perspective of the loser. This is not a book full of stories of victory and heroism, it is mostly the opposite: a book of human frailty and failure. Here the chosen people border tentatively on being unchosen, rejected, cast back from whence they were lifted. It is a bleak, bleak moment in Israel's history, captured in beautiful, heart-rendering poetry.
We all have our moments of doubt, a sense of rejection, or genuine loss and grief. None is without a personal lament of his or her own. Perhaps in recognising the lament of the other, and linking it to our own lament we may become more compassionate in our responses to those unlike ourselves. There is a vein of gold in even the most desperate grief.
1 Jeremiah and Lamentations: an Introduction and Commentary by R. K. Harrison, London, Tyndale Press, 1973