Message Manuscript for “Memory” Lamentations 3:19-26
Delivered to Church for the Highlands John Henson
Sunday, October 2, 2016
Audio of this sermon is here
I recently saw this whole page ad in the New York Times about a condition like dementia As I read from line to line of the symptoms, I became convinced that I had this disease. “That’s what’s wrong with me,” I thought. It was a big deal until I forgot about it.
Memory is a big deal, isn’t it? What do we have if we don’t have our memory? What we’ve heard expressed so eloquently by the author of Lamentations is how important memory is to our lives, especially in how it relates to hope. I invite you to look at it again with me in your pew Bible to consider if you can identify with the words and, if so, how you can find hope in your memory.
To understand the seven verses we’ve just heard in chapter 3, we need to know their context. In the first two chapters, we learn how bad his afflictions really are. Violence, starvation (to the point of cannibalism of each other), babies dying, oppression, and more gory details you can read about in the first two chapters of Lamentations. The author can’t get it all out of his head. He states, “The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.” (v.v.19-20) In the midst of all of this affliction, though, the author finds hope. As he thinks about what he’s going through now and what he and his people have gone through in the past, he remembers who God has been with and for him.
It’s hard to imagine that much agony and what it would have been like to have seen and experienced all of that suffering. Like with Holocaust survivors or folks who experienced Katrina. It’s also hard to understand how anyone could come out of that with any positive memory about God. It wouldn’t be unusual even to question how there could be a God—at least a God who cares—when such terrible things were happening. If you’ve ever suffered inexplicably or been close to people who have, you might agree with how difficult it is to believe in a caring God. As we’ve heard this morning, we can look back in our pain and remember something about God. Doing so may feel like a foolish exercise. If so, its ok to feel that way. I’m thinking, though, that as you remember your affliction, you also remember how God was present with you in some way during it.
The most significant memory of the author is that God has been faithful. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.” (v.v.32-33) It almost sounds like a different person wrote these words. Who could go from singing the blues to a hymn of adoration so quickly? It is the same person. It is a confusing contradiction. The author’s experience of pain and abandonment from God doesn’t diminish his recollection of how God has come through for him in the past.
Can you see God’s faithfulness in your past? You may be going through the worst time of your life right now. It may be so dark and dire that you are having trouble seeing anything at all. Spending time in theological reflection isn’t something you consider when you can barely get out of bed. And, yet, God has a way of working through our darkness and depression to provide the ministry of memory; to help us see how God has been with us in the past; to recall God’s deliverance even when you thought things couldn’t get any worse. The steadfast love of God comes to us as fresh and consistently as each new morning. Recalling God’s faithfulness to you in the past has a way of getting you through the present, even if it means waiting a while on God.
And that’s where waiting comes in. “To wait” in Hebrew is the same word used for hope. The author of Lamentations discovers that “the Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (verses 25-26) It seems like we are constantly hearing about their waiting as the Old Testament texts are read. The season of Advent is just around the corner and its one waiting text after another for 40 days. And then there are the psalms, like the one Jesus prayed while on the cross, asking God “Why have you forsaken me?” In other words, I waited for you to show up, but you haven’t. Even still, he waited with hope for God to arrive. And God did.
Waiting is the hard part of all of this, isn’t it? If you are like me, you hate waiting. Even if you know, there is something good that comes to those who wait; it’s just not a mode we like to be in. Are you in a period of waiting right now? Are you finding any hope there? I sometimes hear the desperation of people who are waiting on God. They wonder if waiting is foolishness and a waste of time. Maybe you’ve felt that way too. I have. You begin to wonder if God is really ever coming. As you wait, you may even begin to wonder if there really is a God.
As we have our time of Communion in just a few minutes, we find ourselves waiting once again. This is World Communion Day? How can we all partake in Holy Communion when there are so many horrible things going on in our world? How can we join with sisters and brothers around the world in the belief that God is present with us in the bread and cup when we see no divine intervention in the evil and suffering in our world? Why do we do it? Because we, in this time of waiting, remember that God has shown up for us before. And God will show up again.
Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, died this past summer. After being freed, he spent the rest of his life bearing witness about his affliction. He wrote about it in his book Night,
“Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer
alive. Their tongues were hanging out,
swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too
light, was still breathing…
And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life
and death, writhing before our eyes.
And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when
I passed him. His tongue was still
red, his eyes not yet extinguished.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
“For God’s sake, where is God?”
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
“Where He is? This is where–hanging here from this gallows…”
We wonder the same thing at times, “Where is God?” We wait for God to come take away all of the affliction but end up finding that God has entered it with us. God is there, hanging there for all the world to see.
What a great thing to remember on this World Communion Day.