Another beautiful composition from Cranmers lectionary. The Book of Lamentations and John’s Gospel enter into dialogue in a complementary way.
In Lamentations, the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 BC forms the background to the poems. ‘How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How she is become as a widow!’ The image, however, is a universal image of all destruction. It tells how a culture, a community can be wounded and stops functioning. ‘Her priests sigh’ and ‘her virgins are afflicted’ is a telling image. When there is no vision of the sacred and the meaning of life, the ‘city’ necessarily reaches a stalemate. ‘Her children are gone into captivity.’ Buried in the sarcophagus of an aimless present − the sense of the common good, compassion and higher values are lost. Today, we are marked by this disorientation. ‘She had no comforter.’
However, Scripture teaches us it is the Lord who ‘hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions.’ This is good news. The very fact that the Lord is in control of the process, gives us hope! The state of disorientation in our culture is only temporary.
In terms of Church life, there is also hope attached to the criticism which we find in this line: ‘The adversaries saw her, and did mock at her sabbaths.’ The standards of compassion and faith must be raised in the Church of England!
The ‘city’ is also a profound image of the isolated person. A culture never becomes inert in itself. First, we, as individuals, become detached from our vital resources. A culture’s disorientation is the consequence of our spiritual, psychological, and social isolation.
The ‘city’ thus cries for compassion, divine and human. ‘Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow?’
The sheer beauty of Cranmer’s arrangement is manifest in what follows in the Gospel. This is the scene when Jesus’ intimately prays with his disciples before his passion. He consoles them. ‘Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.’ To the above afflictions, he responds by offering a lasting abode with the Father. ‘In my Father’s house are many mansion: I go to prepare a place for you.’
What a wonderful image of the future. At the very core of our affliction; at the very heart of the present aion (age), there is life connected with Heaven. Our beautiful and free future arrives and fills up our hearts with dazzling light. ‘I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.’ Our city, our culture is only seemingly dark.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..