Robin A. Parry, Lamentations (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), xii + 260 pp.
The is the first of two posts.
We don’t hear much about Lamentations (the book of) in church. Parry writes,
Unlike our Victorian forebears, we are no longer shy about sex, and we have innumerable ways to speak about sexual intercourse but we are hopelessly lost for words when confronted with grief and death 
Without this vocabulary we become pastorally inept, liable to rub salt into the wounds of grief.
But, in my view, we also lack the vocabulary to change the world. Writing about Jeremiah – traditionally held to be the author of Lamentations – Brueggemann notes that nobody can hope ‘except for those who grieve ... Nothing but grief could permit newness.’*
Thus we must grieve that way the world is in order to hope for change. We must grieve in order to see the kingdom come.
(There are certainly connotations of this in Acts. In Acts 2, Peter misquotes Joel chapter 2. Joel’s “awesome” – or “terrible” – day of the Lord becomes [in 2:20] the “magnificent” day of the Lord.** So whereas Lamentations is dealing with the grief of a world turned upside down by divine judgement – the “awesome” day of the Lord – Acts should cause us to grieve for a world turned upside down by the divine Spirit [cf. Acts 17:6] – the “magnificent” day of the Lord. Again, as Brueggemann notes, we need to grieve the passing of the old order in order for there to be hope, and therefore change.)
Lamentations can show us how.
Parry pauses to reflect on the intent of the book. Is its emphasis to present Jerusalem’s pain, or to point out that Jerusalem got its just desserts (and therefore exonerate God), or some combination of the two? Parry opts for the latter.
Jerusalem knows it is guilty, but questions the severity of the consequences . Indeed, more space is devoted to their suffering than to their sin – suffering that is expressed through a combination of dirge and lament. For example, in chapter 1:
it is no coincidence that the elements of the dirge form cluster in the narrator’s speech while elements of the lament cluster in Lady Zion’s speech. The narrator’s speech is dominated by the overtones of death even though Zion is not dead. Zion, however, is a survivor, and when she speaks it is in a lament straining towards life, and not a dirge looking back to death, that she employs .
This presentation of suffering not only serves to induce empathy – evidenced by Lady Zion’s call for a witness [57 cf. 231]: “See …” [or “Look …"] [1:9,11,12,20] – but its presentation also serves to show us how to lament ourselves. And since it is presented within the context of the covenant, there is an implicit glimmer of hope [31f.]
We’ll take up the rest of the book in the next post.
** Lamentations alludes to day of the Lord in 1:12; 2:1; 2:22.