la·ment/ləˈment/ n. A passionate expression of grief.
Today’s reading is a unique contribution to the Bible. Its author, traditionally assumed to be Jeremiah, is not interested in providing a historical account of events in Israel and Judah–other writings in the Old Testament have accomplished that. He at no point attempts to speak on behalf of God, which sets this book apart from those that surround it in the collection of the prophets. He instead gives us a window into the grief of the people of Israel over the fall of Jerusalem and the chaos that ensues. His voice is like the sound of a wailing parent at the graveside, too uncomfortable to bear yet too compelling to ignore. It is personal and it is passionate.
Significantly, the writer does not suggest that Israel has been wronged. Rather, he laments that Israel has brought judgment on itself. The people have gotten what they deserved as punishment for their disobedience. His appeal to God for mercy, then, is not founded on Israel’s worthiness but on God’s goodness. What we hear in the middle of this poem today is the affirmation of a God whose steadfast love never ceases, who does not seek to inflict harm on God’s children, and who longs to bring restoration (3:22-33).
Lamentations offers both warning and blessing. It alerts us that when we veer off the path of obedience, our actions can have dire consequences. It also reassures us that no matter how far we have veered, we are never beyond God’s unconditional care and concern.