It is not a pretty picture. You walk down Williams Avenue until you come to Chavis Avenue and there across the railroad tracks is Mistletoe Villa. It stands in a place that once was the center of all that was important to Henderson. Those days are gone. Two or three times people have come to try to fix her up and yet the struggle to go upstream against the current couldn’t last. All her friends have left and deserted her. No one comes to parties there. One look at the proud imposing structure and one has a sense of loss and a feeling of sadness that something so grand is now abandoned.
Out of these words of the sad song from Lamentations comes the same kind of sadness. This is the song of Jerusalem. This is the music coming now out of the City of God. This was the great city, the city of the Temple. The glory of God dwelt in the city and yet look at her now. The foe has leveled her walls. They have violated the temple. Not only into the Holy of Holies have gentiles gone, but they have stolen the temple silver.
The battles of 587 B.C. have left their dead and maimed. Widows and orphans now fill the streets of Jerusalem like they do Saigon. The best of the best — the best carpenters, the best thinkers, the best leaders, the best bankers, the best of the best have been rounded up and shipped off to exile, and so those trying to put the pieces together are the blind leading the blind. The enemies of God are now the masters of God’s people.
We do not have to work too hard to feel the pain and suffering in these songs of Lamentation. We have been through enough wars and police actions and UN peace keeping to know the agonies of the battle. Hunger, refugees, death, humiliation, rapes, pillage, it is all there in these songs of sorrow from the people of Jerusalem. They look around and they do not try to pretend to themselves. There is no shutting of their eyes to the disgrace that surrounds them. There is no putting on a positive face, accentuating the positive, or “Be Happy” or even talking about making lemonade.
These songs tell it like it is. They see, describe and articulate the pain. The full torrent of her overwhelming grief flows unchecked through these poems.
Yet there is something terribly strange about these poems of sorrow and pain. You read over and over these five songs of woe and you will not find a single note of resentment. There is great grief and sorrow for all the humiliation and suffering they have endured, but there is not a single note of bitterness. Nowhere do you hear the songs trying to explain their side of it.
These songs move along the line from describing the horrible misery they are suffering. Misery brought on by all kinds of things, friends forsaking them, the humiliation before those to whom they once flaunted their power, the pollution of her sacred place, the exposure to the world of all her weaknesses. Yes there is sorrow and it is ours because we have forsaken the foundations upon which we were built. We forgot whose we were and in whom our strength and hope was found, and so we abandoned God. This is the consequence of our trusting in our own power. This misery is understood by the songs to be the punishment of sin. God has brought this upon us and unlike Job, we are receiving what we deserve because we have sinned.
No denial, no excuses, no attempts at justification for what they did. No note of outrage that the punishment is greater than the crime. They have forsaken the One who called them to be His people and now they are suffering the consequences.
The report in the paper simply put it out there as a fact. On August 17, 1995 the Board of Trustees at the University of Connecticut approved a four-year contract for the coach of the national champion women’s basketball team, in the amount of $170,000 per year. This is a $73,764 raise. The same Board of Trustees increased the pay of the men’s basketball coach from $301,864 to $335,978 per year. The President of the University receives $135,000 per year, and the average faculty salary is $74,000 per year. There was a time when the chapel was the center of the campus. Then it was the Library or the Administration building where the classes were held. Now the field house or stadium is the center.
There is the reality. We as a society have taken our games and made them gods, but put that out there and listen to the denials, the justifications, the explanations of how that has come about.
Or just remember the long, long summer of accusation after accusation of Senator Bob Packwood and his denial, obstruction, explanation, and posturing. No confession, never back up. Or the Chicago congressman who — unrepentant and bitter to the end — was told simply by the judge, “You blew it.”
Martin Luther once commented, “Nothing displeases Almighty God more than when we defend and cloak our sins, and will not acknowledge that we have done wrong, as did Saul; for the sins that be not acknowledged, are against the spirit and the love of God.”
These sad songs do so much because they will not close their eyes to their pain. They are honest expressions of the deep pain that is at the heart of the people of Judah. But there is no pretending that they did not deserve this. The prophets had warned them. The message of the prophet has been written on the subway walls, we have over and over people pointing to the places where we have abandoned those things that matter, over and over it has been warned that the sex and violence in our movies and on T.V. will make us more and more cruel and insensitive, over and over the charge has been made that our court system frees the rich and punishes the poor, over and over we have been told that we are becoming more and more selfish and self-indulgent people.
The prophets speak, and so the children of Israel understood that they were receiving what was God’s action in their lives. This is hard to endure, but this is still God’s hand acting in our lives. That is why we do not despair. Even in the midst of this great pain, there is a reason for hope, because they understand they are receiving God’s act of love.
This is really horrible, but we brought it on ourselves. And yet in the midst of this pain is hope because God is still at work in us. Great is God’s faithfulness to His people. God’s love never ends. The misery is deep and real, but since we are being honest about how painful things are, we are honest about the fact that we brought them on ourselves, and we know that a broken and contrite heart God will not despise.
To accept in silence the punishment of God is to enter into the region of hope, to begin the process of redemption. To suffer the sickness and to take the medicine is to begin to heal and recover. To stand, to acknowledge and to speak our pain, to admit our need or confess our failures is to begin to find the strength and grace of God.
Mickey Mantle moved slowly to the table to be interviewed. The transplanted liver was not working. Among the questions and the answer, Mickey Mantle offered no bitterness, gave no excuses, did not deny his failures. He looked back and simply said, “I wish I had taken better care of myself.”
A broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. No denials, no need to explain. No need to justify ourselves. To accept in silence the punishment of God is to enter into the region of hope.