We’ve reached the last chapter of Lamentations. As Elizabeth noted on Tuesday, Lamentations is in the form of five poems in the form of a dirge — a funeral poem and lament for the dead. I’m no Hebrew scholar or poet, so while a quick search on the structure of Lamentations told me that the first four chapters use the Hebrew acrostic form of poetry, that’s pretty much lost on me, reading in English and trying to figure out what to make of it all.
What can be seen from the English though, is the progression of each poem, and the journey the grieving poet takes us on. I found a couple of overviews on Bible.org helpful in getting my head around it (this one and this one). I particularly liked Homer Heater’s description of the dynamics of volume in the poetry, building through to a crescendo in chapter 3 and then getting softer again.
We move from the eye-witness account of the destruction of Jerusalem in chapter 1, through the realisation that God Himself is behind the destruction as punishment in chapter 2, to the well-known central pivot and focal point Chapter 3:22-24 as the crescendo:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.’
And having reached the peak, we then see the volume gradually turn down through chapter 4 as a general lament of sorrow.
And so we come to chapter 5, where I really appreciated thinking about lamentations from the perspective of the dynamics and volume in the poetry. Ground down by the oppression of slavery the poet’s final cries of lament seem faint, as though all the hope is gone from him.
Joy is gone from our hearts;
our dancing has turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head.
Woe to us, for we have sinned!
Because of this our hearts are faint;
because of these things our eyes grow dim
for Mount Zion, which lies desolate,
with jackals prowling over it.
As any song leader knows, there is perhaps even more emphasis and more drama in the ppp pianissimo than the ƒƒƒ fortissimo. As the volume drops to a whisper, we read perhaps the greatest confession of the book—the almost horrified realisation that perhaps God has finally rejected Israel.
You, Lord, reign for ever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.
Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?
Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
renew our days as of old
unless you have utterly rejected us
and are angry with us beyond measure.
I suspect that’s how it would have felt at the end of Mark 15, as they buried Jesus in haste on preparation day. Has God utterly rejected us? What a long sabbath day must have filled the gap between the end of chapter 15 on Friday afternoon and the women going to the tomb at the start of chapter 16 on Sunday morning. I imagine this gap to be quieter still than that pianissimo in Lamentations 5. And yet that silence portends an even more profound truth to be unfolded.
I wonder if they made anything of the odd singling out of Peter, and the subtle rebuke in verse 7:
But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”’
Ouch! Was Peter no longer one of the disciples after his denial of Jesus? Or was he singled out as the rock on which Christ would build his church? And there seems to be a bit of a poke in “Just as he told you”, referring to Mark 8:31, recorded by Mark just after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ in Mark 8:27-30.
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.
For me though, I think it’s the start of verse 8 that sums up the massive shift in world view that was about to take place, and that Mary, Mary and Salome were yet to comprehend. “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb”.
How would you make sense of what they have just experienced? We who know the ending might find it hard to fully appreciate how incomprehensible this must have been. These women were grieving and feeling, I would imagine, like the poet at the end of Lamentations, which you will recall is written in the form a dirge—a lament for the dead!
It would take some time for them to understand the profound truth that the silence between Friday and Sunday anticipated. That far from utterly rejecting us forever, God chose to reject His son in our place so that we might be restored.
God’s answer to all those cries for help in lamentations happens right there between Mark 15:42 and Mark 16:1 in that silence.