This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on October 2nd, 2016.
Lamentations opens with the personification of Jerusalem as a woman widowed, abandoned in death by her husband. Who is her husband? Her husband is YHWH who, though not dead, has given over his people to suffering. The lament announces abandonment, the deep grief of one alone in anguish. This book of poems was likely written soon after the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, a time when the wounds of sorrow were still raw with hurt. Such an abandonment by God to a foreign power not only weighed the Israelites down with grief over the death of her people; it also called into question God’s place in the pantheon of godly powers. Grief is thus expressed over the physical desolation of the city and the diminishing of YHWH’s covenant faithfulness. Once the symbols of God’s covenant faithfulness: land, temple, and king were now the symbols of all that was lost. Israel’s life with God is now broken, as is their place among the nations. The people of God, the lament asks? Are they the bride of YHWH, a queen among the nations? No, they are now a widow and a slave.
To explicate this point clearly, the Hebrew text uses the word translated “queen” in verse one. This is the same word used for Abraham’s wife, Sara. Jerusalem is no longer the bride of the promise, wed to the fulfillment of God’s covenant to make them a people within the land. Instead, that covenant appears abandoned, as they are abandoned to the grief of exile.
Verse two presents the corporate response of the city, the grieving widow. What is the response of the people in their abandonment? Their response is deep grief. Jerusalem looks in verse two for comfort and love. The nation searches for friends, but none exist. There is only the mocking presence of friends turned to enemies. In whom can Jerusalem put their trust? There is no one present for them.
Verse three describes the torment over Jerusalem’s untethering. Israel’s identity, previously experienced as anchored in the land of promise, is now ripped from under their feet. They are untethered from the land, set adrift in exile and in relation to YHWH. The people of God dwell now among the nations, a people of no place, a people of no Sabbath, no rest within the world.