(By Rachel Holmes)
“How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” (Lamentations 1:1). My heart is quieted by the cries of this ancient, heartbroken man. The prophet laments and my heart, oddly, responds. Never before have his words felt so near, so frightening, so empty of hope and pregnant with meaning. “You summoned, as if to a festival day, my terrors on every side; and on the day of the anger of the Lord no one escaped or survived; those whom I held and raised my enemy destroyed” (Lamentations 2:22). Those whom I held and raised…my enemy destroyed? My children? How quickly my fears are summoned to my thoughts. Does this happen to your people, Lord? Within a few short days our cities have been brought to their knees. What about me and mine, Lord? My soul shudders as I watch the evening news. Night after night, I unpack box after box from our hasty move into the city. I am not immune to this virus. I am not immune to fear. How lonely is this city! My city. I moved here full of hope to reach people here, and now I cannot open my front door. How empty the streets are. How constantly the sirens wail. The hospital is only a few blocks away. It is already overwhelmed. And I am overwhelmed with the need I can’t see. Constantly I lift medical workers in prayer. We found this rental in a matter of days and finished moving hours before the shelter-in-place order was given for Michigan. God provided. These days I jog through these empty city streets and breathe in the muddy sweetness of spring. I notice tiny flowers I haven't seen since childhood. Does anyone else see them? No one is out. Old houses sit full and yet isolated. Curtains are closed. Lord, do you see these things too? Will I find eggs in the store tomorrow? What happens if the kids fall down our many stairs and we need emergency services? Lord? Can you hear me? “He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; He has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry out for help, He shuts out my prayer…so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord’” (Lamentations 3:7-8,18). Morbidly, I devour the whole book. Somehow the heartbreaking lament of this man is frighteningly, comfortingly, similar to the fears of my own soul. When he is faced with famine and war and punishment for national sin, suddenly my fears of not finding eggs are calmed. And my bigger fears are met with deep comfort. God is not afraid of my fears, small viruses or a great national crisis. The focus shifts in chapter three. With fresh, raw worship, I stop hearing Jeremiah’s voice and start hearing the Savior’s: “He has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; He has made my paths crooked... He bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow. He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; He has sated me with wormwood” (Lamentations 3:9,12–15). I imagine the insults, the suffering, the drunken voices making light of His pain. There were no empty streets the night He staggered out to Calvary. Instead, they were full of mocking and rage. But His heart was broken. Empty. Forsaken by God like the prophet foretold. He was not there for His sin at all. He was not there to answer just for His people’s sin. He was there, willingly, for mine. And it’s because of that dark night, and because of the bright morning of Easter, I have confidence to face my own dark nights. Because He was abandoned, I never will be. Jeremiah’s hope is hard won. He faces down a deep trial that shakes him to the core. The crisis that his nation faced was real. But although the situation is unchanged, the tone of the book changes and turns. It turns on the hinge of his memory of who God is. What Jeremiah unabashedly lamented, what he felt, is overcome by what gloriously is. “My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him’” (Lamentations 3:20-24). He remembers that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Not in the hospital room or in empty store shelves or in the genetic material of a tiny, unseen virus. His mercy, for this moment, for this trouble, for this suffering, is new every morning. Every…single…morning. It is brand new to meet the day. With each new bit of news, each new statistic, each new development in this strange story that is our new reality, His mercy is new. In every new struggle to keep your child educated while school is not in session. With everyone home for every…single…meal. His mercy is new. With every trip to the grocery store that feels like going into a war zone. His mercy is new. With every cough that ripples from your loved one and tears your resolve apart. His mercy is new. Or maybe you need to get up, again, and return to the hospital to meet the life-and-death needs of your patients. Maybe you’re not sure how you can face another shift. His mercy is blessedly, repeatedly new. Every morning, every hour, every minute, great is His faithfulness. “Weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). And weep we do. But I’m asking Him to set my heart on the truth of that long ago Easter morning when death and sin and hell and the grave were all defeated with the folding of a cloth and the opening of a tomb. Did He emerge in the muddy sweetness of spring I smell around me today? I don’t know, but I like to imagine it that way. He certainly emerged in victory. His mercy is new every morning ultimately because mercy bloomed that lovely morning. Though we can’t worship together this Easter, we can depend on Him through it. We can look forward to the end of this global trial and the ultimate end of the night. “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:6–8).