By Jared Adams
Lamentations 1, 2, & 3; and John 13
Ruin is the subject of the book of Lamentations, but it is a ruin of a particularly painful sort, because it is a ruin that is earned.
While Job could stand and say “I have been wronged; I did not sin against God to deserve this judgement,” Jerusalem could act under no such pretense.
As a people, the Israelites turned to other gods, and none “among all her lovers” could provide any comfort to a calamity that was tailored specifically to lay bare their sins.
It is as if God mocks them:
You think my law so burdensome? Try the law of the Babylonians!
You practice worship that is merely external? Let the Temple become as bereft as your hearts!
You trust in walls? Let them be brought down.
In gates? Let them be sunken into the earth.
In kings? Let them be scattered.
Thus, the writer of Lamentations says in 1:8 “all who honored her despised her, for they have seen her nakedness.”
In a very real sense, the Israelites in Lamentations are experiencing a foretaste of Hell. They have heard the most dread words that God can utter: “You want nothing to do with me? So be it.”
As the writer of Lamentations (Jeremiah probably) says in Chapter 2, verse 13: “What can I say for you, to what can I compare you, O Daughter of Jerusalem? For your ruin is vast as the sea; who can heal you?”
The eager Sunday School student would raise a hand at this question. We know the answer, don’t we? Jesus can heal you. Next question, please.
And that’s a correct answer, but it’s not a full one. In the third chapter of Lamentations, the Lord is indeed offered as the one who can heal Jerusalem. As it says: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”
But we also have the following statement, which is on its face just as encouraging, but also carries with it a thorn. “The LORD is good to those who wait for him.”
The thorn is the word “wait.”
In the midst of our ruin, at times when our sins have been laid bare for all to see, we don’t get to skip over the gut-wrenching consequences that we rightly receive. If we believe in Christ, we are forgiven and there is no condemnation for us in Heaven, but here on Earth the fallout remains, and in that fallout all we can do is wait for something we cannot even see.
Which brings me to Maundy Thursday, and a strange saying of Jesus there. Simon Peter famously refuses to have Jesus serve him by washing his feet. Then Jesus says if he doesn’t, Peter has no part of him. Peter then says: “Not my feet only, but also my hands and head.”
Jesus’ response to this is odd: “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except his feet, but is completely clean.”
We’ve been following the metaphor here by now. Jesus is in some sense washing away sins, right? It’s not just road-dirt he’s cleaning. I would seriously doubt that there’s any time in scripture where washing just means washing.
The point is that Jesus expressly says their sins are forgiven. They are clean. This is undergirded by him saying “but not every one of you,” implying Judas Iscariot, who was still dead in his sins. So why the foot-washing?
Because we have to wait for our experience to catch up with reality. We are clean, yes. But we also exist on this fallen Earth in our fallen bodies and still have to contend with metaphorical road-dirt and sweat. God declares us Righteous in Christ, but sin still worms through practically everything we do.
We need to each be reminded of this so that trials don’t shake our faith in Christ, whether they are brief periods of pain or something as all-encompassing as that in Lamentations. But we also need to be reminded of this in relation to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Though they are clean, their feet are stained from their daily battle with sin.
And in this temporary state, Jesus Christ himself has given them a means of temporary comfort: you.
Christ has made them clean, yes. But you, you are responsible for lifting up your brother and sister who has fallen, even (perhaps especially) if they’ve fallen as a result of their own sin, and pointing them toward that glorious future day that seems so distant from the ruins they now tread.
May God give us grace to do this, today and always.