Icon: Utmost Humiliation
*Please be advised that the Book of Lamentations contains disturbing imagery*
How lonely sits the city that was full of people! (1:1). The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the festival; all her gates are desolate; (1:4).
In the midst of this pandemic, with the social distancing and isolation measures that have been imposed, we can identify with these verses, at least to a degree, like never before in recent memory. Our cities are largely shut down; economic activity has ground to a halt (the gates of 1:4 refer to the marketplace, which is now desolate); our churches sit empty, their doors are locked, no one will attend our Holy Week and Easter festivals in person.
And so the Church and her members weep bitterly (1:2). Whom will she seek for comfort?
Among all her lovers she has none to comfort her (1:2, 19). In fact these lovers have been revealed for what they really are: enemies (1:2), persecutors (1:3, 21), and adversaries (1:5, 7, 10, 17).
These lovers are the various idols that we as individuals have run after, all the the things we have hoped and trusted in other than God: things like money & financial security, power, honour, pleasures, our work & achievements. The pandemic has taken these away from us in some measure; it has revealed them to be insecure and undependable, unable to bear the full weight of our trust and expectation. For the contemporary Church, this lover-turned-enemy is the cultural 'respectability' and 'relevance' we have so eagerly sought and for which we have willingly forsaken our doctrine, discipline and worship.
The Church is in captivity to the world (1:3, 5); she has seen the nations enter her sanctuary, those whom [the LORD] forbade to enter your congregation (1:10). Bishop Jenny speaks often about our 'catechetical crisis,' by which she means that many life-long members of the Church are unaware of even the most basic Christian beliefs. Baptismal preparation, which was undertaken with the utmost seriousness in the early Church, is now rarely required (and I confess my own laxity in this regard). Countless people who are baptized are unaware of this fact, have never been back to church since and do not profess faith in Christ. This is a great scandal, the primary cause of our decline and a cause for mourning and repentance.
In Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah not only reports on the desolate scene and mourns over Jerusalem, he also stands for the bereft capital city in lamenting the sins which were the cause of her fall. In this respect, he foreshadows Christ crucified, the perfectly sinless penitent who laments over us (Luke 23:28), prays for our forgiveness (Luke 23:34) and assumes our fallenness, disgrace and forsakenness:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)
Crucifixion was the most brutal, degrading and tortuous form of execution in the ancient Roman world, reserved only for slaves and common criminals. This is the death that Jesus Christ, God incarnate, died. Why?
On the cross, the Son of God went to the furthest limit of abandonment, suffering and shame. He assumed the very worst experience it is possible for a human being to suffer in this world. He took upon Himself the very worst of what this world has to offer. In the Gospel accounts of His Passion, we see every form of human dysfunction on hideous display: betrayal, callousness, corruption, greed, miscarriage of justice, sadistic violence and much more. On the cross, Christ truly bore the Sin of the world.
In the words of Fleming Rutledge, 'No other mode of execution would have been commensurate with the enormity of the dark Powers holding us bondage. [...] He was condemned; he was rendered helpless and powerless; he was stripped of his humanity; he was reduced to the status of a beast, declared unfit to live and deserving of a death proper to slaves - and what were we if not slaves?' (The Last Seven Words from the Cross, Kindle Location 275).
Christ crucified displays the ugly curse, enslaving power and dehumanizing effect of Sin. This is why St. Paul can say, God made Him to be sin who knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) and that He became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13).
All the abjectness of Jerusalem in Lamentations 1 is assumed by Christ crucified. He becomes accursed, defiled, naked, unclean. Though royalty, He was made a slave (1:1). The yoke of our transgressions bound Him, made His strength fail and delivered Him into the hands of those whom we are not able to withstand (1:14). He had no comforter (1:9) - He was utterly forsaken (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).
Christ did this to break the curse of Sin for us, to free us from its chains, and cleanse us from its defilement.
In the midst of this pandemic we are rightly worried about infection from the coronavirus and feel constrained in a certain degree of bondage by the distancing and isolation measures. But this period of isolation is also an opportunity like none other to take the time to cleanse the sanctuary of our hearts from all that would defile our personality and thereby diminish the effectiveness of our Christian witness (Matthew 15:18; 1 Corinthians 3:17; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 5:4). May we be sure to take that time during this Holy Week.