The Creator’s Lament
Creation Rainbow Sunday
October 6, 2013
The Rev’d. Gretchen S. Grimshaw
Episcopal Parish of St. Paul, Newton Highlands, MA
Welcome to our season of Creation Care! And although I think we might agree that every season should be thusly grounded, our diocese has invited us to be especially aware of our role and relationship in God’s creation this fall, in the months of October and November. And so we kick off this season of Creation Care by blessing of God’s creatures and celebrating God’s rainbow. In our Christian tradition the rainbow is the symbol of God’s covenant with all of creation. In the ninth chapter of Genesis after God destroyed most of God’s own creation with the most perfect storm of all time, God looked at the destruction in the wake of what sort of amounted to a divine temper tantrum, and God had a moment of divine repentance. God must have been sorry to have wreaked such destruction, because God summarily promised never to do it again, never again to destroy God’s own creation again. And God told Noah that the reminder of God’s solemn word, God’s commitment to creativity over destruction, would forever be the rainbow, a simple arc of sunlight spread into the full spectrum of colors that would stretch across the sky as an everlasting reminder of God’s promise. The rainbow is indeed a powerful symbol in our tradition. It is a sign of the reliability of God’s Word. And it is the only one of God’s covenants in the Hebrew Bible that is inclusive of all of creation.
The rainbow reminds us not only how much God values creation, but also how important it is to ground our values in our word……that is, God was not just sorry to have destroyed creation, God backed God’s commitment to creation up with a promise. The rainbow reminds us that we must be both intentional and trustworthy about our…..contrition.
The rainbow reminds us that God has promised never again to destroy creation. But our reading this morning from the Book of Lamentations reminds us that humanity has made no such agreement. The Book of Lamentations is…just as the title says, a book of constant sorrow. It was/is thought, by some scholars, to have been written by the prophet Jeremiah around the time of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, around the year 586 before the common era, when Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians and the Temple, the center of Jewish worship, was summarily destroyed.
We don’t hear much from Lamentations in our lectionary. Usually in Holy Week, more specifically, on Good Friday. Which makes sense as the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple for Jews is, by some stretch of the imagination, not unlike the destruction of Jesus of Nazareth, for Christians. Both events mark the violent destruction of God’s presence on earth…in Jerusalem. It is no coincidence that both the Temple and Jesus were brought down in the same city. And so Lamentations is a heartbreaking collection of soul-searing poetry that radiates from that deep and painful wound that is the loss of the Temple of the Living God. The entire Book reads like an extended version of Jesus’ last words on the cross: My God, My God, why have you forsaken……us?
Like the book of Psalms, from which that line is taken, Lamentations is also written in the form of poetry. And it is organized into five fairly distinct poems, five sections that build their metaphors on a structure that follows the Hebrew alphabet. The poems in Lamentations are acrostic. That is, the lines are written in alphabetical order. The first line begins with an aleph, the next with a bet, the next with a gimmel, then a daleth, then hey….you get the picture. The Hebrew alphabet has 22 characters. The number of lines in each of the five poems is a multiple of 22. There are 66 in the first three, 44 in the fourth. And 22 in the fifth. How cool is that?!
Cool…..and excruciatingly sad. In the first poem, the city is a lamenting its loss of the Temple. The theme of the first poem is truly: There is No Comfort to Be Found. Anywhere.” The second poem talks in very graphic terms about the rampant and vicious sin of the people and the mighty destructive acts of God. The theme might be “You Get What You Deserve.” The third poem changes voice from the narrator and the city – Zion, to a third, and unidentified voice who begins the chapter by saying I am the one who has seen your affliction under God’s wrath. A third anguished witness to the agony resulting from the wrath of God. But it contains the first utterance of hope in this Book of Lamentations. In this chapter the witness reminds the broken Zion that God’s mercy and steadfast love never ends. And yet, these just desserts are for their own good. Poem four again laments the Temple’s destruction and attributes it’s demise to the “sin” of the people. And poem five is….has been called, a “Survivor’s Prayer.”
Perhaps the most striking feature of the Book of Lamentations, outside of its very cool structure, is that the voice of God is summarily absent. Silent. Lamentations is like a piercing, agonizing unanswered prayer. It is a desperate attempt on the part of the city to understand the causes of the destruction that has befallen her. What went wrong? How did we get here? Were we not the chosen people of a loving God? How could God have deserted us? And although Lamentations was written over 2,500 years ago, I do not think that it is in any way outdated. Not if we look honestly at the state of our planet and the tipping point of sustainability that we are fast approaching. This lament of the destruction of the Temple, the universe, the center of our world, may not be altogether behind us, mayn’t it?
One could make the case that we are on that course of destruction once again. That we are burning our own Temple to the ground. And although God is silent in this Book of Lamentations, I wonder what God’s lament might sound like today? As God watches what we are doing to our own universal Temple. As we clear cut the land and pollute the air and water and kill off so many of God’s most magnificent creatures for sport and fashion and foolishness. What would God’s Lamentation sound like today? What must God be lamenting as we burn the Temple of this good earth into oblivion? And so at the risk of speaking for the Almighty, I have taken the liberty of writing a short lament that I imagine might express what God might feel watching our destructive behavior. I have kept to the form of the Book of Lamentations, that is, it is also an acrostic format, but with the English alphabet. So there are 26 lines, in alphabetical order….. from A to Z. So here is Our Creator’s Lament:
A slippery slope
Creation all is groaning!
Fools! Now or not, atoning.
Gone are the days (to)
Have it both ways
It’s past the last postponing.
Just, please turn around,
Kiss this holy ground,
Lament not your Creator’s zoning.
My Milky Way?
No. My Naiveté.
O how I thought you would shine here. (It’s)
Prime real estate
Quite Golden this gate, (but)
Rats! It’s the end of the line here. (I)
Should have made dogs,
Turtles, and hogs
Ubove you in the ranking. (but the)
View from my heart
When we did start, (well, I was)
Xpecting much more thanking.
Yet, you’re all I think of,
Zing! My heart’s still in love……..even though you deserve a good spanking!
And so the Good News in all of this lamentation? The Good news is that God is still with us, still listening, and I trust with all of my heart, still longing to lift us in living color, despite our….black and whiteness about this life. I think that God is silent in the Book of Lamentations not because God is no longer listening, or because does not hear our cries, but because….well, maybe because God is just tired of hearing us lament. At the risk of sounding harsh, maybe we need to stop crying, and start living more authentically….into the life that God imagined for us, the life that always begins again, says the wise St. Benedict. Maybe we need to let go of our losses and make today….the day. The day that marks the end of the rain and the beginning of a new day. The day we live into the promise of the rainbow….the day we reflect God’s everliving image on our hearts!
© October, 2013 The Rev’d. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw