The revised common lectionary this week includes two choices from the Book of Lamentations matched with Psalm 137. We’re going with the selections from Habbukuk and the Gospel according to Luke, regarding faith, but the other readings are compelling in their own right.
In his commentary on the Psalms, James L. Mays writes that, while Psalm 137 is not one of the 'songs of Zion,' it is a song about Zion. In songs of Zion, Jerusalem is majestic and invincible, secure against hostile threats and foreign armies. In this psalm, Jerusalem has been flattened; the psalm is full of pain.
The psalm describes a particular time and place, and the theme is about remembering. Linda Rondstat even sang a song quoting from the psalm:
The singers vowed not to forget but to remember Zion when they were in Babylon. The psalm sings of resistance to one city and devotion to another. And in the end, it also makes an appeal for retribution.
There is faith in our remembering. Faith can never forget Jerusalem - see Luke 6:6-11 and compare it to Psalm 137:5.
Laments helped the people keep their relationship to Jerusalem alive, in the same way Christians remember Jesus at the Communion Table, to keep that relationship alive. It's the same for anyone we remember after losing them. Even Jesus lamented. Few of us can get through life without some experience that challenges our faith.
Lamentations was written for a specific time and place: Israel’s exile to Babylon. It was traumatic for the nation. Families separated, the Temple destroyed; every-day life disrupted. More than one prophet wrote about it, warned about, and, yes, lamented it. After the Exodus event, the Exile was the next big thing and is remembered to this day, and for good reason.
How many exile-style events has the world experienced and lived through since the turn of the last century? We can start with World War I (or, The War to End All Wars; missed that one by a mile), and then move on to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria; the German invasion of Poland; Soviet Russia’s response in eastern Europe; World War II in general; China in North Korea; the French and Americans in Indochina; the revolutionary upheavals in Central America; Lebanon; Syria; Somalia. And our national lament: 9/11.
The Russians expected Ukraine to crumble. It didn't happen, and Ukraine, with the help of the West, is fighting back. Take that, bully. But Russia (that is, Putin) won't go down easily, if at all. They can rattle sabers with anyone too. A new conscription callup may tip the balance in terms of numbers they can put on the battlefield, but Ukraine is proving to be a nimble force of resistance.
Ukraine can win. Russia, thanks to Putin, can lose. A lot.
In a world in perpetual pain, Scripture tells us to never forget, to never give in. To lament for a time, but also to resist. There is much for both free peoples and the oppressed to lament.
There is always hope and God is always at work in the world.