Reading Lamentations: A Missional Mourning

Today I will finish a five-week series at my church [Fc3] preaching through the book of Lamentations for the season of Lent. It has stretched and challenged both myself and our congregation, but it has been a very worshipful season.

My main take-away: Christians should not ignore the book of Lamentations.

“Lamentations can be read from inside-out as worshippers are asked to identify with Zion in her grief. It can also read from outside-in as worshippers are asked to identify with the narrator observing Zion, or those on the road passing by, or even as the oppressing nations who cause the pain. As such it has the potential to teach us to express our praise before God, to call us to comfort others (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor 1), or as a sharp expose of our communal sin by causing affliction to others, bringing conviction of sin and offering a call to confession and repentance. Using this book well in worship is not about becoming self-obsessed, miserable people but about becoming people who can respond to the pain of others in more appropriate ways (an outward-looking and mission practice if ever there was one) and who can respond to our own pain (either individual or communal) more honestly and faithfully.” [Robin Parry: Wrestling with Lamentations in Christian Worship]

If you are interested, you can listen to the sermons here:
Lamentations 1 – A Topography of Pain
Lamentations 2 – Moved to Tears
Lamentations 3 – Can’t Shake It
Lamentations 4 – Broken But Beating
Lamentations 5 – Your Move, God

Lamentations 4:20 – MT or LXX?

How important should the LXX be for Christian preaching?

Lamentations 4:20 was an important christological reference to many of the church fathers (such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Cyril of Alexandria, and Augustine) and is a good example of how the LXX guided early Christian interpretation.

Possible Hebrew Translation:*
[The] breath of our nostrils, YHWH’s anointed,
was captured in their pits –
[He of] whom we said, “In his shade,
we will live among the nations.”

Majority Christian Rendering of the LXX:*
The s/Spirit before our face, Christ the Lord,
was taken in our/their corruptions/snares,
of whom we said, “In his shadow,
we shall live among the Gentiles.”

“A christological re-reading of the passage opens up interesting new ways of construing it. The capture of the king in 4:20 is the climax of the woes in the chapter: he who embodied the whole nation representatively has fallen to the foe. Immediately after this we have the unexpected oracle of salvation (4:21-22), with no hint in the text as to how one could move from the lowest point to the highest point of hope in the book….
On a christological interpretation, the move from verse 20 to verse 21 makes perfect sense. The loss of the king of Israel to the pagan foe in 4:20 is simultaneously the climax of the exilic woes and the means by which those woes come to an end…. The violence of the enemy is engraved on the subjugated and broken body of the Messiah, and yet in the act of being overcome by evil the evil is itself overcome by nonviolence. A subversive, cruciform element is introduced in the reception of the text.”*

* from Lamentations, Robin A. Parry (188-190)

God’s Wrath and Love are Asymmetric

I’m currently preaching through the book of Lamentations for the season of Lent. One of the more difficult parts of Lamentations is the violent and destructive nature of God that it often presents. Many commentators find Lamentations 3:33 [“God does not afflict from his heart, or bring grief to the sons of man”], in the context of Lamentations 3:21-24, as a telling theological statement amidst the honest expressions of pain that permeate the book.

Robin A. Parry, in his commentary on Lamentations, offers this beautiful reflection:

“Here is a central theological insight of the book. The man situates the terrible rejection he has suffered within the context of the being of God. Yes, God does reject but he does not do so forever. Rejection will be followed by overflowing mercy according to his vast loving kindness. Yes, God does afflict, but it is not something that flows from his heart. There is an asymmetry between wrath and loving kindness. Loving kindness emerges from the very heart of God, but wrath does not. Love is a permanent disposition of YHWH, but anger is a temporary reaction to sin. In the end mercy will always triumph over judgement because of the nature of God revealed in Israel’s story. This vision of God underlies Lamentations.”