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Icon: Utmost Humiliation

Introduction to Lamentations

The Book of Lamentations is comprised of five poems or dirges that mourn the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem and its temple at the hands of the Babylonians in the year 586 B.C. (The Jewish people commemorate both this event and the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70 on Tisha B'Av - an occasion which involves the reading of Lamentations).

Authorship is traditionally ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah. In fact, some ancient manuscripts begin the book with these words: 'And it came to pass, after Israel had been carried captive, and Jerusalem became desolate, that Jeremiah sat weeping, and lamented this lamentation over Jerusalem.' In the course of his mourning, Jeremiah also confesses the national sins that were the cause of Jerusalem's fall. The prophet makes it clear that the Babylonian conquest and Exile were an act of divine judgment against God's people for their obstinate apostasy, idolatry and injustice in spite of repeated warnings over many generations.

*Please be advised that the Book of Lamentations contains graphic and disturbing imagery that may not be suitable for all readers.* 

But Jeremiah also sees a glimmer of light in the midst of the great darkness surrounding him. Although Jerusalem has been made desolate, there is still the hope of restoration and renewal (Lam. 3:25–30). He knows that God would never completely abandon His people. The figure of Jeremiah shows us that the experience of suffering is necessary to grow to spiritual maturity.

Lamentations in Holy Week

We will look at one chapter of Lamentations per day of this Holy Week. The Church has long drawn a connection between Lamentations and the Passion & Crucifixion of Christ. The Reproaches (or the Meditation on the Cross of Jesus), traditionally read as part of the Good Friday liturgy, include Lamentations 1:12 - Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow? 

Placing the words of Lamentations on the lips of Jesus expresses a profound truth: Christ crucified is the perfect mourner and penitent, who laments and confesses not His own sufferings and sins, but the sins of the people which were the cause of His Passion. Jesus tells us to mourn not for Him, but for ourselves (Luke 23:28). As the perfectly sinless penitent, He prays for the forgiveness of those who crucify Him: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). 

Jesus also represents the fallen Jerusalem and desolate temple of Lamentations. As the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), Jesus is the true King of Jerusalem (literally, 'city of peace') who suffers the violence of the world. As God incarnate, His body is the true temple (John 2:21), the meeting place of God and humanity. He is also the great high priest and the perfect and final sacrifice (Heb. 9:23-26).

Therefore this week, we will explore Lamentations in light of the Last Seven Words (or sayings) of Christ from the Cross. These are as follows:

  1. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34)
  2. Truly I say to you: today you will be with me in Paradise (Luke 23:43)
  3. Woman, behold your son ... Behold your mother (John 19:26-27)
  4. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)
  5. I thirst (John 19:28)
  6. It is finished (John 19:30)
  7. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Luke 23:46)

Lamentations in the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has engulfed the entire world. Fear and anxiety, sickness and death, economic disruption and uncertainty everywhere abound. In response to this crisis, we can only mourn and lament - and the Book of Lamentations is ideal resource to teach us this lost art.

To be sure, the desolation of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. was far more severe and intense than what we are now suffering, particularly here in Canda. That being said, at least to a degree, Lamentations speaks to our present experience like never before: our streets are virtually empty; our churches are closed and none will attend our Easter festivals, people of high and low estate are sighing and afflicted together (Lam. 1:4).

The Book of Lamentations is clear that the fall of Jerusalem was an act of divine retribution for human unfaithfulness. Can the same be said of this pandemic? As I said in a previous post, we certainly cannot answer a bold 'yes' to this question, for we know in part and we prophesy in part (1 Cor. 13:9). But I believe it would be equally rash and presumptuous to respond with, 'No, of course not.'

Many Christians leaders have rightly been hesitant to offer a theological explanation for the pandemic. What I've found fascinating is that many secular commentators have been willing to interpret the signs of the times and have not shied-away from making prophetic pronouncements that the pandemic is, for example, an act of cosmic justice for our environmental degredation of the planet.

What is needed at such a time as this is humility, an inquiring spirit, and a careful, patient submissiveness to the fulness of biblical revelation. Unpalatable though it may be for our modern Western sensibilities, there are indeed instances in Scripture when God sends plagues and other afflictions on nations and peoples, including His own. But then there's Job. The cause of his suffering is deeply mysterious and the examples of his so-called friends serve as dire warnings to any who would presume to explain and justify the ways of God.

And finally there's Jesus Himself, who refuses to draw crude causal links between suffering and divine affliction, but rather uses the occasion of such questions to emphasize our common need for repentance and the saving works of God (Luke 13:4-5; John 9:1-3). These Holy Week reflections on Lamentations will, I hope, be offered in this same spirit and in light of the One whose suffering & death on our behalf was the ultimate saving work of God.


'We adore you O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.'


Background artworkDavid Roberts, The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem (1850).


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