Judith Walker-Hutchinson, All Souls
The first reading we just heard from the book of Lamentations is part of a collection of poems about the destruction of Jerusalem almost 600 years before Christ. It’s a kind of poetic funeral dirge in which the bereaved wail and address the dead.
The tone is bleak, God does not speak, the degree of suffering presented is undeserved, and future expectation is minimal.
We, like Israel, are here to collectively lament our loss, to in some way attempt to lay down the burden of our grief, possibly our anger and our lack of comprehension at the feet of God, like Israel to cry to God, a God who seems absent and punishing. We have come here to the quiet and peace of this place to express ourselves, to give something up and as I’ve thought about that the words of a U2 song from their latest album came to my mind, A song called ‘Every breaking wave’, a song about loss as we hear.
“Every sailor knows the sea is a friend made enemy and every shipwrecked soul, knows what it is to live without intimacy.”
But it was the next line that particularly struck me
“I thought I heard the captain’s voice, but it's hard to listen while you preach.”
and I wondered whether the words of any sermon in this service would simply be more of the well -meaning but essentially meaningless words that people say when they don’t know what else to say.
If anything there is the danger that my words simply trample all over the space you have come here to share, words to get in the way of you shedding something of your burden.
And it was a strange thing about the new U2 album, I think it's great but it caused huge controversy because without announcement it appeared as a free gift to everyone who has iTunes whether on a computer, phone or an iPad – and some people were furious, that this unexpected and unasked for thing had got in their way, cluttered up their inbox when all they had to do was ignore it or simply press delete to get rid of it.
Music has changed so much hasn’t it? I'm still old school, I like the tangible, a CD in its cover, even better my old vinyl collection even though I no longer have anything to play it on. I like to touch it and see it, it makes it real. But still these songs, this free gift from U2 out there in the ether of the wonderweb, is really there for me to enjoy.
Perhaps, even in your sadness you might find moments when you can enjoy, after all life goes on, like the song says
“every breaking wave on the shore tells the next one there’ll be one more.”
words just keep on coming, but the loss is still there, the sadness - as Bono sings
“If you go? If you go your way and I go mine are we so helpless against the tide?”
Grief can feel like that, like a terrible drowning in life.
Let me read to you from “After Happiness” by Hugh Hayward. Hayward’s son took his own life, and these are a grieving father’s words
“Anyone who has known a deep grief will know the bolts of pain that rain down, the anger, the blame, the guilt, the disbelief, the skin-bursting unchangeability of what has happened. the numbness that follows is a welcome relief.
In the same way, anyone who has visited this desolate land knows that what finally gets you through it, is the love of those who support you …People whom you have lost contact with write or phone. Others give support in unobtrusive ways. Some do not know what to say, especially the young for whom death thankfully is a stranger, but their understanding is nonetheless palpable.
Nothing lasts. In this case, thankfully. The skin grows again, but the scar remains. So what happened to happiness?
It disappeared. And this is where words become inadequate and difficult to find. Because there is a state beyond happiness. It is not resignation: it is more active. Perhaps it is called acceptance. There are some things one can do something about. There are some one can’t. As Richard of Chichester found, the trick is to know the difference. Hayward goes on…
The acceptance for me lies in the certainty that, in a way I do not begin to understand, I am part of God, I am part of God who is the ground of my being, that ground being love. It has nothing to do ultimately with being good or bad, even to understanding it.
That is where I live. Suddenly phrases that were meaningless acquire meaning. ‘O, love, that will not let me go’ – means just that. When I read ‘All in the end is harvest’, I understand. When Julian of Norwich says “and all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well”. I know in my bones that she is right.”
Hugh Hayward had turned a corner in his grief and if we listened carefully to that song of lament from Israel we would have heard the turning of that corner too. Right there in the middle of the reading from Lamentations that we heard is the centre of the whole book, the turning point, the beginnings of hope, hope that a better day will dawn.
It is the realisation that just like those songs in the ether not everything that is real can be touched or held, seen or smelled.
Right there in the middle of our reading we hear these words:
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
You may have come here to lay down something of your burden, like Israel to wail and lament to God, but you can also take something up.
Throughout the book of Lamentations Israel never hears the word of God, the people never have the tangible presence of the grace of God. But we do. We have the word of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and it was Jesus that gave the full expression to that priceless, free, gift of hope in the God that Isreal knew in their hearts ‘does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.’
rather hope in the God whose will it is that Jesus should lose nothing of all that he has given, but raise it up on the last day.
Israel’s song is not a song of lament but a song of hope, hope that we can find a different tune, a different way to look upon the relentless breaking waves.
These are words from another song on that free U2 album. Bono sings: ‘
I’m a long way from your hill on Calvery and
‘I’m a long way from where I was, where I need to be.’ And that may be how you feel right now, but this is the chorus of that song
‘If there is a light you can always see and there is a world, we can always be. If there is a dark within and without there is a light, don’t let it go out’
This song, like Isreal’s song is not a song of lament, its title is “Song for someone”
and that’s what you’re here to sing tonight, a song for someone and that means that you have known love and you have seen light.
So by all means lay something down here tonight, but let me encourage you to pick something up too.
There is a free gift on offer here, you can’t see it, you can’t touch it, but you can know its reality - by the grace of God it is the gift of hope, don’t press delete on this unexpected and unasked for gift - your song for someone. Amen