the young men have stopped their music.
Joy is gone from our hearts;
our dancing has turned to mourning.
Lamentations 5:14b-15 (NIV)
Wendy and I attended the funeral of a friend yesterday. As funerals go, it was the kind of celebration of life and faith that I appreciate. After a long battle with cancer, our friend ended his earthly journey at home, surrounded by his family, holding his wife’s hand. Each of his three children shared honestly and humorously about their father’s foibles as well as his faithfulness. It is popular to say that funerals are a celebration of life, but it was really true in this case. We really felt it in our hearts as we watched and listened.
During one of the special music numbers, Wendy leaned over and whispered to me, “This sounds like a song from a Broadway musical.”
She nailed it. My eyes grew big and nodded and smiled in agreement. But that wasn’t the end of it. As the song continued, Wendy started whispering to me her vision of the musical on stage.
“This is where the chorus slowly begins to make their way on stage to join the soloist as the music swells.”
At this point, I’m laughing because I can totally see it in my head.
The song continued to build through a repeat of the chorus, and then right on cue I leaned over and whispered, “Key change!”
Wendy doubled over with laughter as the song moved to the final bridge. As it moved to the dramatic closing Wendy whispered the possible titles of the musical we’d just conjured up in our heads. I can’t remember what she said. I was laughing too hard. It’s a good thing we were sitting in the back row.
Later in the day, Wendy and I talked about the fact that we both felt very much at ease at the funeral. Our friend knew where he going and was ready to go. He lived a life of faith, hope, and love and he touched our lives in such good ways. His family was laughing amidst their tears during the funeral. The spirit in the room was that of joy, which I think gave Wendy and me the freedom to share our own laugh together. I believe there is such a thing as a good funeral, and this was one of them.
I couldn’t help but bring that to mind as I read the final poem in Jeremiah’s five-poem cycle we call the book of Lamentations. Those who like happy endings will be disappointed. If anything, Jeremiah leaves me mired in the terrible circumstances he witnessed. There’s no glimmer of hope. It’s still out there somewhere on the dark horizon.
Jeremiah even leaves a buries a clue of his sorrow into the structure of the chapter. The structure of the first four poems in Lamentations are forms of alphabetic acrostics in which the first word of every verse began with successive letters in the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet. You might notice that there are 22 verses in today’s final chapter, but the verses don’t follow the alphabetic acrostic pattern. Metaphorically, the poet is telling us that things are breaking down, the structure is falling apart.
“The music has stopped,” Jeremiah reports. No joy. No dancing. No inspirational swell of a climactic Broadway finale. Not even a funeral dirge. There’s just continued mourning, the perpetuation of chaos which ends with a final questioning cry to God, whom Jeremiah feels is distant and aloof.
Christmas Eve is a week from today, and I admit that it has felt a bit odd to journey through Lamentations while the world is waxing sentimental about gingerbread houses, Santa’s visit, and “peace on earth goodwill to men.” At the same time, there was something about this week with Jeremiah that felt honest in a healthy way. This life journey ebbs and flows, and its course doesn’t always conveniently coincide with the spirit of the holidays the world seems to annually expect of me. And, that’s okay.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.