Luke 13: 31-35
This is where we will focus most of our attention today: on this commentary by Jesus: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How would I have gathered your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken.” [Luke 13: 34-35] Jesus foresaw the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem—including the desecration of the Holy Temple; the ruin, the bloodshed, and the destruction. When Jesus started teaching that beloved Jerusalem would be ripped apart, those who heard him could not believe it. Jerusalem destroyed? It cannot be! Some of the most poignant commentaries and reflections over time have come after a human calamity, particularly one not manifested by a natural disaster. This week we grieve over the massacre in ChristChurch, New Zealand. Who knows what will be written about that?
So much gets forgotten and our laments can grow faint. My friend David Hughes was a Civil War buff. His books and photographs reminded me to look past the tales of bravery in the War Between the States to remember that it was America’s bloodiest war. The literature he had that he related to me filled me with horror, even though it happened before any one of us was alive. In the classic film “Gone With the Wind,” a fictitious story set during the Civil War, director Victor Fleming starts a scene having Scarlett make her way into the center of Atlanta. There she is met by medic after medic carrying wounded soldiers past her, and as she looks around—the camera pans out in stunning Technicolor, using no special effects—to reveal one of the most labor intensive scenes in movie history, as hundreds of dead or badly injured soldiers fill the screen with unbelievable carnage. That war should have brought on much more soul-searching and much less chest beating or flag waving.
Fast forward into the 20th century: the Holocaust. The commentaries I’ve read and the photos I’ve seen in the Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem took my breath away. Jewish author Elie Wiesel, for example, wrote The Night Trilogy centered on Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp. In his forward, he writes: “I speak of society’s attraction to violence on the one hand, and the temptation to suicide on the other. How can we explain the hate that burns in so many homes? How can we understand the despair that pushes so many?” [Hill and Wang, New York: 1985, p. 3] The photos I’ve seen and the stories I’ve read have been heart breaking. Surely God’s heart was breaking too as free will was used to commit heinous murder.
A third example is in the 21st century: 9/11, when planes intent on destroying buildings of capitalism crashed into New York’s Twin Towers of the Trade Center, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C, and into the ground outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The heroic story regarding that last flight is memorialized in a book by Lisa Beemer about her husband Todd ,and the passengers who kept the plane from reaching its target. Let’s Roll, is in our church library. The aftermath of that 9/11 day, unlike the earlier ones, was largely caught on full color film. One book that haunts me the most, and gives me pause, contains no words. Called Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs, it includes candid photos of the smoke, blood, the ash, and horror of that day and afterward. I pull it out annually, usually in September, to never forget. Never forget what? I want to never forget how to lament calamities, like the bloodiest American War; like Nazi Concentration Camps, and like solid steel building parts cascading toward the ground while flames made the occupants panic and jump to their death from skyscraper windows. And now I want to never forget how misguided men, with twisted Nazi ideologies, still murder others. Jesus laments that; and God weeps over such destruction.
I don’t have any memories of Jerusalem being destroyed; it did not even happen in Jesus’ lifetime. Perhaps you, at times, wish you could see into the future? Would that be tempting, or would it be dreadful? What if you could discover which one in your family dies early? Or you could learn if your home burns down, or your business fails? Jesus was certainly haunted by what he learned from his Heavenly Father: that destruction was coming to Jerusalem, the “City of Peace.” Jerusalem was on a downhill slide toward destruction at a time when the Pax Romana—the peace of the Roman nation—was brutally enforced. As author Adam Hamilton taught our Wednesday night class in his DVD, “Remember” did not just mean, “never forget.” It meant, “Help me and deliver me.” In the midst of that knowledge, Jesus goes into a powerful lament over a city that was the center of the Jewish world. Jerusalem was to be the final stop on in his earthly life.
As people go through the valley of the shadow of death, they learn some things that didn’t occur to them before; things like how fragile life is; how precious memories are; and how much we can miss the touch of a loved one. Our Caring Friends group, that meets with bereaved people, just had its eighth anniversary on March 6th. Between eight and 16 people meet to support, to learn how to move on, and also lament. Lamenting is not just crying, although it can include crying. Lamenting is not just mourning, although it is mourning too. Lamenting expresses one’s deep grief about something or someone. One of the greatest lamenters in the Old Testament was prophet; a great prophet, often called, “the weeping prophet.” His name was Jeremiah, and for being as young he was, he sure cried a lot! In fact, an entire book was written with his laments: you know it as “Lamentations.” Columbia Seminary Professor Emeritus Kathleeen O’ Connor wrote a book about Jeremiah’s lamentations. Listen to some of her chapter titles: “ Poetry of loss,” “There is No One to Comfort You,” and “Your Suffering is Vast as the Sea.” [Lamentations & the Tears of the World. New York: Orbis Books, 2002.p. vii] Jesus was very familiar with the writings of that great prophet. It was a way of honor a nation of people by weeping for them and for the destruction that was coming to them. Doing that is not a faithlessness act; it is an honoring action. The Rev Keith Nickle, former President of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, wrote: “As Jesus anticipates the events that await in the city toward which he traveled, he laments in anguish over Jerusalem. Although Jesus wills salvation for Jerusalem, Jerusalem wills destruction for Jesus ….” [Preaching the Gospel of Luke, Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2000, p. 151-152.] So, “The pathos of the lament is caught up in God’s passion to save, which is pitted against human determination to resist, even when the results will be tragically destructive.” [David L Tiede, Luke, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988, p. 256.]
As people go through such tragedies, they learn how to sift through the “wheat and chaff” of life, as the Bible puts it. In common language, they learn what is important and what is less important. “Jesus says, in that hour of lament: “Your house is forsaken. You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.!’” Really Lord? ‘Jesus knew that was what we call “Palm Sunday.” Others surely thought it was a cryptic message.
Even as there is increased tension in Israel, and there are increased armaments in the stockpiles of other nations like North Korea, and our own arsenals are poised, which conflicts could lead to our future destruction? Over the last hundred years of more, important chaplains and pastors of national stature have sought to have the ear of our presidents, to remind them of both God’s justice and God’s mercy; to warn them of the terrible consequences of mass bloodshed; and to ask them to remember: To remember the Civil War; to remember the Holocaust; to remember 9/11.
Deadly acts continue to be perpetrated. May our national leaders use their powers carefully; make their choices wisely; and turn their ear toward God. Jesus’ teachings can have an even greater impact today to guide the decisions for today. Will it take yet another calamity to drive Christians back to their knees and leaders to awaken? Let’s take the steps necessary so one day there might be real peace in the City of Peace called Jerusalem, and God’s grace and corrections might be lavished on all who are bloodied and broken by hate.
Let us pray:
Merciful God: help us tune our ears to what Jesus taught, regarding changes we can make to help avoid future destruction or calamity. Call us to use our resources today to try to avoid crises tomorrow for your beautiful world and your wonderful creatures. We lament terrible losses today. Remind us to learn or re-learn the teachings of Jesus, the teacher of our most powerful life lessons. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner March 17, 2019