A woman named Ann had a friend encourage her to memorize Bible verses, one verse beginning with each letter of the alphabet. She took up the challenge and carefully chose twenty-six scripture passages. These memorized verses have become an essential part of her faith journey.
A woman named Kathleen noticed that she read books by authors who looked and sounded a lot like her. In pursuit of viewing life through a different lens, she changed her reading habits and selected books alphabetically based on the authors’ last names. Although finding an author's last name beginning with the letter Q or Z is a challenge, it is a challenge she pursues each year with an open mind and a willing heart.
A man named Jeremiah created poetic laments for the Jewish people exiled in Babylon. Known as the weeping prophet, Jeremiah offered healing and hope to the homesick Jews. He expressed mourning, grief, and sorrow often in acrostic style by using the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. More than any other writing, poetry can help a reader slow down and rest in each word, which carries profound truth and rich meaning.
In Lamentations, chapter 3, the verses appear in a triple acrostic with the treasured verses 22, 23, and 24 beginning with the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “Chet.” In the Hebrew Bible, Lamentations 3:22 begins with one of my favorite Hebrew words, “chesed.” Often, finding a one-word translation between languages for a particular word is difficult, which rings true for this Hebrew word regarding love. Perhaps, if we combine all of Paul’s descriptions of love found in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, we would come close to defining the Hebrew word for love, “chesed.”
Deep into Lamentations, chapter 3, we find these three verses (22, 23, and 24) that describe God’s loyal, faithful, merciful, and hope-filled love. However, when we limit our reading and hearing to only these three verses, we comprehend only a small portion of the profound truth and rich meaning of God's love.
While reading the first 66 verses of Lamentations, we may feel as if we are walking alone down a never-ending flight of steps into a cold and dark space. Jeremiah's tear-stained words bring weight to every downward step. After hearing about hunger and homelessness, ceaseless crimes, and loss of life, we finally reach the bottom of the stairway. In the cold, dark space, the renewing message of steadfast love shines through the darkness: a loyal love that persists in the face of suffering; a merciful love that offers healing through a forgiving heart; a faithful love that provides everlasting hope in our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer.
Most of us prefer to avoid seasons of suffering because living life from the heart is much too difficult; however, in our avoidance, we comprehend only a small portion of God's deep, deep love for us.
Thankfully, God calls people such as prophets and poets who choose to suffer alongside us, walk with us in hardship, and share God's steadfast love with us, even if it takes seventy years to do so.
Frances Taylor Gench, Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Union Presbyterian Seminary, writes that Lamentations is not a book that explains away or eliminates suffering but is a biblical witness of how God keeps company with suffering and is a companion to our suffering.
Whenever we read prophets’ words of lament, we experience life through a different lens and can become a companion to suffering as well.
Whenever we choose to keep company with suffering, we discover the profound truth and rich meaning of God's love by walking hand in hand with those experiencing years of war or exile, seasons of chemotherapy or grief, or days of hurt or brokenness.
Thankfully, God calls people like you and me to suffer alongside one another, knowing that our Lord did the same for us.
We know steadfast, merciful, and faithful love because God first loved us this way. Jesus’s suffering love and resurrected life offers us a hope-filled love and abundant life—a life washed in the waters of baptism, nourished at the table of grace, and called for service in the world.
Throughout the Thanksgiving weekend, may we find ways from A to Z to do good in just ways, share steadfast love every morning, and walk humbly with our faithful companion and Lord.