At the beginning of April, one of the prescribed readings in the Methodist Church lectionary was taken from The Book of Lamentations in the Old Testament writings of the Bible. It seemed particularly appropriate for the dark times the world is living through at the moment.
There is much lament surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of people are ill; many, far too many, have died; countries’ economies are at a standstill as people endure the difficulties of lockdown, confined to their homes. It is a human reaction to lament, to grieve, at such a serious and widespread situation.
The author of Lamentations, Jeremiah “the weeping prophet”, had cause to lament. His nation of Judah had been defeated by the Babylonians, the Temple in Jerusalem destroyed, the people exiled. This had happened just as Jeremiah had predicted, a consequence of the people rebelling against God. The prophet’s tears were not for himself, but for his broken people.
But in the midst of all this sorrow, there was a bright ray of hope. In his darkest moment Jeremiah recalled God’s promise of future hope and restoration through his grace and unfailing love. He found a chink of light that turned his tears to praise as he recognised that God would always be faithful to his people.
The British soldiers who liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp exactly 75 years ago on April 15th 1945 found much to cause them to lament. The veteran war reporter Richard Dimbleby gave a graphic account of the horrific scene that the soldiers encountered – bodies strewn on the ground, emaciated faces at the windows of the wooden huts, starved people too weak to come outside.
Belsen was the first visual confirmation of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. The stories of those who survived, and those who perished, deserve to be remembered in honour and retold in ways that inform us today.
Six million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators in the Holocaust. On April 20th their lives will be remembered worldwide in the annual Jewish remembrance day Yom HaShoah.
Many people who have lost relatives to Coronavirus are unable to grieve with their families and friends and share memories together while in lockdown. It is a time of lamentation for people and lives and time lost.
Jeremiah found some light in the darkness. The courage of Jewish Holocaust survivors, some still telling their stories today to inform the world of what took place and to guard against it ever happening again, is also a bright light shining in the dark.
The dedication of NHS staff and kindness of strangers during this pandemic is a beacon of light for all.
Let Jeremiah have the last word, for he found that even in the depths of his sorrow there was still reason to proclaim God’s unfailing love and grace.
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.
(The Book of Lamentations 3.22,23)