Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Lamentations - A Festal Garment

One of the books I read this past summer was "Five Festal Garments" by Barry G. Webb. This book is part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series from IVP, which is a series of scholarly works tackling various parts or issues within the Bible. There are several topics addressed in this series that I find most intriguing and have found the volumes I've got to have pushed me deeper and challenged me.

This volume was certainly one that deepened my understanding of the five shortest books of the Old Testament (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther) by exploring how they fit into the whole of scripture. The reason for the title of the book is that each of these five OT books have been associated with one of the five Jewish festivals. It turns out the Jewish people spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out exactly how to handle these books (as seen by the various places some of these books found themselves in terms of location within the OT) and eventually lined them up with their festivals. This is an interesting use of these books that was not adopted in the Christian Liturgical calendar, but one that is certainly worth considering. 

The one I found most interesting was the use of Lamentations in conjunction with the annual festival on the ninth of ab (mid-summer) which is a day to fast and mourn the tragic events of their people's history. Lament is something we in the western world do not do well and I was really struck at how healthy this day of lament could be. The original intent of Lamentations was to lament the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. The festival has developed further to commemorate a number of tragic events in Jewish history. 

Lament as a whole, corporate or personal, is something that has not translated well into our western evangelical context. We seem to be good at lamenting the sins and misdeeds of our nation but not so good at including ourselves in that equation, corporately or individually. Lamentations serves as a corporate lament for corporate sin. The Bible also has plenty of guidance for personal lament, particularly within the Psalms, giving us words to say in those times when we want to express our grief. Life will always include times of sorrow and proper lament can be healthy and the idea of a time of lament worked into the calendar to force us to pause and lament for what needs to be lamented for could be very healthy. 

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