This text was originally published as part of Ad Cenam Agni, a 2023 virtual Lenten Retreat hosted by the Abbot's Circle.
Although not present in the actual text of Jeremiah’s Lamentations, each of the selections chanted at Tenebrae ends with the refrain, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord, your God.” For centuries the prophets warned the kingdom of Judah that infidelity to God’s law would result in punishment. How extreme that punishment was! If only they had repented of their sins and turned their hearts to God, begging His forgiveness and mercy, none of it would have happened.
A similar warning resounds in the Church when we get to this final line for each threnodic passage. What will it take for us to hear the prophet’s word, let it change our hearts, and give up our sins? As he sat lamenting the ash heap of the holy city, so we ought to lament at the effects of our wrongdoings: God died for love of us. Such tender mercy ought to bring from our lips repentant vows, a longing and a pledge to renounce our sins and be faithful to Christ.
But the Lamentations of Jeremiah do not end with unmitigated tears of grief. The last chapter of the book is not a soliloquy of pain but a prayer. The prophet turns to God and, yes, rehearses the catastrophe that has befallen Jerusalem in horrifying detail, but then he praises and challenges God: “But You, Lord, are enthroned forever; Your throne stands from age to age. Why have You utterly forgotten us, forsaken us for so long? Bring us back to You, Lord, that we may return: renew our days as of old.” The answer to our misery in offending God is for God to extend His grace and love towards us.
Christians are a people saved by hope. The death of Christ on account of our sins is the very reason we can cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness. Destruction of God’s holiest temple was foretold by Christ Himself, and He promised to raise it up on the third day as the pledge of our own resurrection at the end of time.