Mourning for what was.
So, now we have social distancing requirements, stay-at-home orders, threats of total lock-down, food and essential item shortages, hoarding, curtailments of constitutional rights, closings in every segment of society, cancellations, vast virtual education systems, on-line church, stock and financial shenanigans, and many other market-place, community, and human realities super-imposed over our lives. All of this, and more, in the "...land of the free and home of the brave". There's been mountains of comic relief too as the surprising dynamics of Covid-19 slipped into our lifestyles. We Americans know the value of good humor when life takes nasty turns. Still, to live under restrictions and heightened awareness isn't the norm for most of us free souls. It's a fact of life, though. We humans don't always appreciate what we have until we have it no longer.
Last night Harriet and I saw a live shot of NYC's Times Square during one of the news segments. Times Square was nearly desolate, a central gathering place of our most populated city. It reminded me immediately of the first sentence of Lamentations, Jeremiah's five poems about desolated and defeated Jerusalem---
How lonely sits the city that was full of people!
Lamentations 1: 1, ESV
The Prophet Jeremiah's first poem in Lamentations is mourning for what was. His first chapter chronicled the then and now truth of Judah's decline, the glories of God's favor in the past, the disgrace of God's punishment in the present. The nation "who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave" (v. 1). Remembering their former status in contrast to their fall stirred him deeply, both as God's prophet to the nation and as an individual servant of God. Verses 1-11a of chapter one are somber, grieving notes about the God's chosen people, their land, and their city. In verses 11b-22 Jeremiah addressed his own personal plight and the sorrow for his spiritual decline. He wrote, "For these things I weep, my eyes flow with tears, for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit" (Lamentations 1: 16, ESV). In looking back, he concluded "...for all my groans are many, and my heart is faint" (Lamentations 1: 22, ESV). Faint indeed!
Living in the past is generally criticized in Scripture. Several significant Bible passages give us directions for forward movement, our take on progress---
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a
new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the
wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43: 18-19, ESV
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting
what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal
for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3: 13-14, ESV
It is true that many believers, and congregations for that matter, actually live in the past, times when spiritual lives were responsive and active, with little movement now. Still, a glance in the rear-view mirror on occasion to see where we've been is essential in charting a course for the future. Jeremiah knew he couldn't turn back the clock. He was mourning what was as a reminder that the God who had guided them then, was the God who would guide them again. He and the nation needed personal renewal.
At this point the Covid-19 remains a challenging unknown. As we practice social distancing, isolating ourselves, being restricted to the house, let us remember and thank God for our then, reflect on the joys of life in this great nations, and pray that we have hope in the days ahead.