Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday: Lamentations and Love

In Holy Week this year, our Daily Office lessons include readings from Lamentations. These laments were written in response to the destruction and desolation of Jerusalem. We include them during Holy Week because lamentation is a sort of universal language – the words written to grieve one tragedy can help us express our feelings of grief as we remember Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion.

In light of the recent IPCC report on the impacts of climate change [see the National Geographic article New Climate Change Report Warns of Dire Consequences for a short summary of some of the key points and explanation of the report], sections of Lamentations can help us understand and articulate some of the grief most of us feel when we allow ourselves to hear what climate scientists are telling us.

The Book of Lamentations begins with the words “How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!”, a lament that might very well apply by mid-century to some now populous cities along coasts or in hot, arid regions. We might even expand that lamen: How lonely sits the city that once was full of people and trees and birds! How lonely sits the ocean that was once full of living things!

Perhaps more heart-breaking, when read with the knowledge that the IPCC report predicts a future in which food production decreases to the point where there is not enough food produced to feed everyone on the earth, are these words from today’s lesson describing children dying of hunger:

My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground because of the destruction of my people, because infants and babes faint in the streets of the city. They cry to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they faint like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out on their mothers’ bosom. (Lamentations 2:11-12)

This evening as we observe Maundy Thursday, we will read the account from John 13 of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. When he has finished washing their feet, he asks, “Do you know what I have done to you?” He explains that even though he is indeed their Teacher and Lord, he has done the servant’s work of washing their feet. Jesus has not so much turned the hierarchy on its head as he has destroyed our ideas of privilege that we attaching to hierarchy, and he makes it clear when Peter protests having Jesus wash his feet that unless the disciples can accept this new paradigm, they have “no share” with him. Along with all of this, Jesus gives a new commandment that reflects this way of life: “Love one another.”

It’s clear that Christ would have those of us who now enjoy economic privileges make some hard choices about our way of life. What needs to change in our economy, in our ways of producing and consuming energy and food, and in the way we organize our communities, transportation, and all the other pieces that make up our daily lives so that we can serve others?  Are we prepared to deal with loss of species in our ecosystems and loss of agricultural productivity? How do we need to change so that all of God’s beloved children have a chance at life?


 The song “Before My Time” and the stark images accompanying it during the closing credits of the film Chasing Ice provide a sort of lament for what is happening already; the break-up of the Arctic Ice is a huge loss. Our witness to photographer James Balog’s courage in gathering and sharing evidence of what is happening gives some hope and human meaning amid the desolation.  

Is it any wonder
All this empty air
I'm drowning in the laughter
Way before my time has come

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