| Lamentations 3:19-26
|Sun, October 7, 2001
Rev. Ed Searcy
|In most countries today is just another Sunday. For Christians in other lands today is simply the 18th Sunday after Pentecost. But not here. Here in Canada it is a special day ... a feast day ... Thanksgiving Sunday. Today city people like us give thanks along with our rural relatives that the earth has once more born fruit, that our land has generated an abundance of food. Seeds that mysteriously germinated in the Spring and grew into wondrous flowering plants in Summer have now, in the Fall, offered up the food which we will eat at our tables all Winter long. This is truly the gift of God. No wonder that harvest thanksgivings are celebrated in every land on the face of the earth. All peoples know that without these good gifts we simply could not exist. Amen? Amen!
Of course, there is much more. Today we also join with Christians in all four corners of the globe at this Table. The 1st Sunday in October has, for more than a century, been the occasion when Protestants all over the earth eat together at the Lord’s Table. It is a living sign of our unity in Christ beyond borders and nations, continents and races. At this Table we become fellow citizens of God’s kingdom come. Here we give thanks for the gift of God in Jesus Christ whose life and death and new life has born fruit in this reconciled people called the Church. Our gratitude goes beyond stalks of wheat and pumpkin pies ... it goes to the God who is at work in the garden of human history, growing a people of hope and courage and love ... a people rooted in the ways of Jesus Christ and growing by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen? Amen!
Yet, gathered here on this great Thanksgiving Sunday, we listen to the grief-stricken poetry of the Book of Lamentations:
“How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become ...
She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks ....
The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate, her priests groan;
her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.”
(Lamentations 1:1-6 selected)
Reading these words we can’t help but think of all of the bitter laments being sung still, one month after the tragedies of September 11th. There is the painful lament of the President of Cantor Fitzgerald - the firm in New York that lost over 750 employees (including Aldyen’s four friends) in the World Trade Centre. Through tears he says: “Can you imagine? I am receiving phone calls from the widows and widowers of my employees and they are calling because they are worried about me ... they are worried about me.” Then his voice trails off in deep sadness. Reading this passage from Lamentations at our weekly ‘Text to Sermon’ gathering this past Wednesday we sat silently. Then Bernice said: “This passage sounds so contemporary ... It sounds just like Afghanistan right now.” And the sadness reminded Anita of the day when she was a child in Estonia ... the day in 1942 when her Father noticed the ships in the harbour and sensed trouble and packed his family up and fled their new home and their beloved homeland much to the bewilderment of their neighbours and relatives ... neighbours and relatives who were soon to be caught up in terror ... and never heard from again. The Bible’s ancient songs of lamentation bring to mind all manner of contemporary songs of great grief.
But why must we read them today ... on Thanksgiving Sunday of all days? We could, of course, choose other texts, happier texts of gratitude for God’s goodness. Still, we know that the world’s lamentations cannot be silenced just because we choose not to listen. God still hears these distant cries. Well, perhaps they are not all distant cries. Perhaps there are also songs of lamentation at some of our own Thanksgiving Tables today. We, too, bring grief mingled with gratitude to this day and place. And we gather at a Thanksgiving Table set for a last supper. It is a meal of thanksgiving eaten in the shadow of the valley of death. Our sacrament of joyful thanksgiving does not deny - or silence - songs of grief and sadness. These songs belong here, at the Table of the Lord. Because this is the place where lamentation is turned to gratitude and where grief is turned to joy and where death is turned to life.
It is here at this Table, sharing in the world’s songs of lamentation, that we find the ground of our hope, the cause of our joy, the grateful centre of our thankful life. In the heart of our song of lament there is a reason for hope:
“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; they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-22)
Listen to this. In the middle of the saddest book of the Bible we find talk of God’s great faithfulness. And look at this. At this table that brings back such memories of Good Friday grief we celebrate the Easter faithfulness of the God of ‘hesed’. Yes ‘hesed’ (pronounced “chesed”). It is the word that describes the core of our gratitude today ... and everyday. ‘Hesed’ is a Hebrew word. It is the word used most often in the Bible to describe the God of Sarah and Abraham and of Mary and Jesus. The Bible calls it ‘the hesed of Yahweh’. In English we say ‘the steadfast love of the LORD’. Steadfast love. Constant love ... firm love ... unwavering love. Hesed. This is the gospel that the people of Israel know: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases”. It is the gospel that becomes known to all the world in Jesus Christ. Yahweh - the Maker of Heaven and Earth - is a God of ‘hesed’ whose “mercies never come to an end.” Amen? Amen!
This, of course, means one other thing. It means that those who worship Yahweh and who, at this font and table, covenant to follow the ways of Jesus in the world will be known as a people of ‘hesed’ ... a people of steadfast love ... steadfast even in the face of great lamentation. Steadfast love is not ‘fair weather’ love ... it is love that hurts and suffers and does not give up. This is the type of people who we are being formed into here ... a people who are nourished by the steadfast love of the LORD that is embodied in the outpoured love of Christ for the world.
Come. Eat. Drink. Receive the ‘hesed’ of God ... so that together we can become a living testimony to the steadfast love of the LORD. Amen? Amen!