Each year the Lamentations speak to me afresh, because each year brings new aches and disappointments. Last night, in the Chapel of Repose, I tried to repose myself against the back wall but my legs, oddly, ached in ways they did not last year. Yesterday I had a difficult meeting with a good person and didn’t get much sleep. Since Tenebrae last year, the Church and the World have declined precipitously, with no end in sight. It certainly seems that the world’s current trajectory leaves no room for the Church, and no role for a Catholic priest. My brother priests are dropping like flies, and for some years now the bishops have given up on their parishes and schools. One good bishop told me two years ago that “the parish is a donut, with a hole in the middle, and that hole is the pastor.” Meaning: the pastor is completely ineffective, effectively absent, canceled, rendered irrelevant, and hopeless. Certainly many young priests I speak with seem rather hopeless, not unlike most young people. What is there to look forward to in a society unravelling at the seams?
The Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet were written from exile. Before Assyria and later Babylon invaded Israel, the prophets wept over Jerusalem’s infidelities. Most temple priests and professional prophets had rejected God, leading the people into practical atheism. They lived as if God did not really exist, and Jeremiah warned them that a nation without God will fall. Jerusalem fell in 587 BC, and most Jews were either killed or sent into exile slavery. “Your prophets had for you false and specious visions,” Jeremiah wrote from exile. “They did not lay bare your guilt, to avert your fate. They beheld for you in vision false and misleading portents.”
I can’t tell you how real these words were for me this morning as they were chanted in the Mozarabic mode. We are at the end of something, but the money has not yet run out, so most people don’t want to hear Jeremiah’s lamentations. Each Lamentation, however, ends with “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Return to the Lord your God.” Here’s the hope: Jeremiah would not have called for a “return” if he didn’t think it was possible. Jeremiah the weeping prophet was a man of hope, and in the darkness this morning, his hope reached out to us across 25 centuries. The sun will rise tomorrow. Who will see it? Perhaps only a very few, but the sun will rise tomorrow, to warm all who put themselves in its healing rays.