Lamentations 2:1-3 NSRV
How the Lord in his anger has humiliated daughter Zion! He has thrown down from heaven to earth the splendor of Israel; he has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger.
The Lord has destroyed without mercy all the dwellings of Jacob; in his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of daughter Judah; he has brought down to the ground in dishonor the kingdom and its rulers.
He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn his right hand from them in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around.
Psalm 51: 1-4, 10-14 NSRV
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
How different are these passages! When I first read Lamentations, I was thoroughly taken aback. Grounded in the love and mercy of the New Testament it is sometimes easy to forget that God has expectations, and that there are consequences for disappointing Him. Written at the time of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, the Israelites had first-hand evidence of this. This passage, and that which follows in the full lectionary reading (chapters 1 through 9) is unrelenting in its sense of God’s judgment.
Psalm 51, attributed to David after being rebuked for his sin with Bathsheba by the prophet Nathan, also carries this theme. God is justified in his anger and he is blameless when he passes judgment. All of creation belongs to the Lord; a sin against any of its members is a sin against God. But to me, the Psalm also offers hope. There is no sense in asking to have one’s transgressions blotted out or to be cleansed from one sins if that isn’t possible. God’s mercy is there to be asked for. Confession with reliance on God’s mercy can open the door to reestablishing a right relationship with God.
Through the Holy Spirit, one can be restored to the joy of salvation. Reliance on God’s mercy creates a sustaining relationship with the Lord. Being restored to a right relationship with God opens the way to reestablishing a right relationship with others. After being restored to relationship with God one can reach out to others and give praise for deliverance. All of these things are possible because the Lord is merciful, His steadfast love endures forever.
Merciful God, have mercy on me for I have wandered far from your ways. Lead me back to your paths so that I may be made new in your love, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.