Rev. Mark A. Schaefer
September 11 Interfaith Prayer Service
Kay Spiritual Life Center
September 11, 2002
18 ¶ My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.
19 Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”)
20 “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”
21 For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
22 ¶ Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?
Jer. 9:1 O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!
The prophet Jeremiah penned these words twenty-seven centuries ago in response to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian Empire. Jeremiah writes contemplating a catastrophe in which everything that the people of Judah had known was brought low: the Temple and the palace, the walls of Jerusalem destroyed–the people of Judah deported into exile. It was an event so devastating that to this day Jews refer to it only by the date on which it happened: Tisha b’Av, the Ninth of Av.
There is something interesting at work in this lament. Jeremiah is often referred to as the “weeping prophet” because of the number of his laments. And so we read this text and conclude that we are reading yet another of Jeremiah’s laments over the destruction of his people. But as we look closely at the words of the text, we notice something else.
The voice of the speaker shifts. Sometimes Jeremiah is speaking. Sometimes Jeremiah is speaking for God. Sometimes God is speaking. And we realize that in the original text–there are no punctuation marks, no quotation marks–everything that we assume about this text is an editorial choice made by a later interpreter.
If we go back, and read those words again, “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people…” and we read them not as Jeremiah’s words, but as God’s, then we get an entirely different message. For we come to understand that God suffers our suffering with us. God is not unmoved by our pain and brokenness. The God who hears the cry of the Israelites in Egypt and knows their sufferings, suffers with us in our sufferings.
We are not alone. When we suffer, we do not do so apart from God. Rather, it is in that suffering that we can come to understand the nature of God, who out of profound love for us, suffers with us the consequences of our brokenness. And this gives us hope, as we contemplate and reflect back on events so devastating, that we can refer to them only by the date on which they occurred.