The Fourth Sunday of Easter
The Lord Bears Your Grief and Brings Joy
[Lamentations 3:22-23] “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”
Those words from our reading in Lamentations are not by themselves in the Bible – they are at the end of a longer line of thought. They are the end of a passage of great grief and lamentation.
Bear with me – and listen closely – as I read the whole longer passage. We need to see these words in their context.
[Lamentations 3:1-21] I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; 2 he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; 3 surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. 4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; 5 he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; 6 he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. 7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; 8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; 9 he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked. 10 He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; 11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate; 12 he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow. 13 He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; 14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. 15 He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. 16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; 17 my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; 18 so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” 19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! 20 My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. 21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Today’s words of comfort come in the context of a great grief, almost despair. The man who is grieving is God’s prophet Jeremiah. The one who is giving him grief is God his Lord. “I [have seen] affliction under the rod of His wrath”; “He has made me dwell in darkness”; “surely against me He turns his hand”’; “he has made my chains heavy”; “He is a bear lying in wait for me.”
The “He” is God. And this is sometimes God to us. The cause of our grief as He feeds us with troubles. A frightening thing. Too heavy for us. A hand too severe. Whose presence is unsafe for mere flesh. God is sometimes gloom and darkness to us. He pursues us with His bow, and He makes our teeth chew on gravel.
And we say, “God, why are You doing this to me? Why do You let this happen? Why won’t You stop this?” “Though I call and cry for help, He shuts out my prayer” – and the weight of God continues to lean against me.
Is God evil? Does He do me wrong? No. Instead, God is terribly good. God is good. But I am not good. To the sin and wrong in me, God’s goodness is a dark and deep terror and intimidation.
Our God is good, all the time. In His presence, we feel the emptiness of our own goodness. We are at times – sometimes during times of other hardship or grief, sometimes not – but we are at times allowed to feel this absence of our own righteousness. We therefore approach God like a bare nerve, under the naked weight of shame. We feel this in our greatest griefs and lamentations.
But grief is not the end of our reading today. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end… For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not afflict from His heart.”
God does not afflict from His heart, and His end game is not your grief. Instead, from His heart, God has given you His Son. In fact, God has given to His Son your grief and Has afflicted Him in your stead. Christ your Lord has elected to carry grief and lamentation for you that you may endure.
“I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of His wrath.” This man was Jeremiah. But now this man is Jesus Christ our Lord forever. Jesus, the Holy Son of God, became the bare nerve for you on the cross. Dressed in the nakedness and the shame of your sin, Jesus entered into the presence of Holy God.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was afflicted… it was the will of the Lord to crush him… his soul makes an offering for guilt”, and, by this, He has made “many to be accounted righteous” [Isaiah 53:4-11].
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” [Romans 4:7-8].
Jesus is your shelter and covering. He has delivered you from your grief. All about God that is a terror to our weak flesh, Jesus faced for us in our place. And in His resurrection, He has become your protective clothing.
The once bare sinner is now covered in the crucified and resurrected Christ. And, just as the cold air reminds you of your winter coat, your temporary fears and griefs remind you of your covering in Christ. In this way, we learn all the more to trust in nothing but Jesus for safe passage through life and death.
“This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” I call to mind all that Jesus has done for me and, indeed, for the whole world [1 John 2:2; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Timothy 4:10; John 1:29]. Amen.