Following the fall of Jerusalem and the horrendous things that took place there, believers try to understand. They are not complaining; they see the ruins as deserved punishment for their many excesses and constant rejection of God’s warnings. Yet, they know that the Lord loves his people: they believe this, feel it and proclaim it.
When the exiles returned to Jerusalem, they may have gathered to pray together on the ruins of what had been the temple, and taken turns with these laments. Later they continued yearly to pray them on the date of the catastrophe, and much later the Church adopted the custom of using them in the days she remembers the death of Jesus.
In the Lord’s Passion, the believer sees the sum total of the suffering and anxiety of humankind. These poems help us to look with the same compassion on the suffering of Christ and the suffering of the destitute. They will help us to unite the vision of universal pain with the sense of human sinfulness and responsibility.
A Jewish tradition attributes these poems to Jeremiah. They do seem to manifest a spirit very similar to his.
1How forlorn the city lies,
once teeming with people!
How like a widow is she,
once mistress of the nations!
A princess among the cities,
she has now become a slave.
2She spends her nights weeping,
drenching her cheeks with tears.
Who is there to comfort her
among all her lovers?
All her friends have betrayed her
and have become her enemies.
Judah has gone into exile
but she finds no rest among the nations
where she sojourns;
her pursuers have overtaken her
where there is no way of escape.
4All roads to Zion are in mourning;
no one comes to her feasts.
Her gates are deserted,
her priests groan,
her virgins grieve.
What bitter anguish she suffers!
5She is at the mercy of her foes
who enjoy prosperity and power.
Yahweh himself has made her suffer
for all her iniquity.
Her children, driven into captivity,
take the lonely road to exile.
6Gone from the daughter of Zion
is all her majestic splendor.
Her rulers, like harts
that find no pasture,
have fled helplessly
before the oppressors.
7Jerusalem recalls her days
of wandering and affliction,
her people fell into the hands of her foes
and there was no help.
Haters gloated over her downfall
and laughed at her destruction.
8Greatly has Jerusalem sinned;
she has become as a thing unclean.
but now despised by those who have seen her naked,
she herself groans in dismay
and turns her face away.
9Her filth clings to her skirt.
She gave no thought to her doom,
and so her fall came suddenly,
with no one to offer comfort.
“Look, O Yahweh, upon my misery,
for my enemy has overcome me.”
10She has seen how the enemy
has laid hands on her treasures.
She has seen how the nations
have defiled her Sanctuary—
those peoples you have not allowed
to come into your assembly.
11All her people groan
as they search for bread;
just to keep themselves alive,
they give their jewels for food.
Look, Yahweh, and mark
how I have been despised.
12All you who pass by,
look and see.
Is there any calamity
like this, inflicted on me
by Yahweh on the day
of his burning anger.
13From above he sent a fire
down into my very bones,
he ensnared my feet
and threw me down,
and left me in pain
the whole day long.
14He bound my sins into a yoke
and fastened them together,
then set them upon my neck
and caused my strength to fail.
Yahweh gave me into the hands
of those I cannot withstand.
15Yahweh has spurned
the bravest of my fighters;
he has summoned an army
to crush my young warriors.
Yahweh has trodden in his winepress
Judah’s virgin daughter.
16This is what I weep about,
what makes my tears well up.
No one is near to restore my spirit,
no one at hand to console me.
My children are desolate,
for the enemy has triumphed.
17Zion stretches out her hands,
but there is no one to give comfort.
Yahweh has decreed for Jacob
that his neighbors become his foes.
As an unclean thing among them
has Jerusalem become.
18Yahweh acts justly,
for I have defied his order.
Listen, all you peoples,
and see how I suffer.
My young men and maidens
have all gone into exile.
19I cried for help to my lovers,
but they betrayed me.
My priests and my elders
perished in the city
they sought anything to eat,
but finally they had to die.
20Look, Yahweh, upon my distress:
all within me is in anguish.
My heart recoils within me:
I know that I have been rebellious.
See, outside the sword that kills,
and within, death that stalks.
21People have heard my moaning
but no one comes to comfort me.
My foes have known of my suffering,
they rejoice at what you have done.
Hasten the day you have proclaimed, that they may be even as I am.
22Let their evil come
before you, and deal with them
as you have dealt with me
on account of my sins.
Great indeed is my groaning.
How sick at heart I am!
1Oh, how Yahweh in his anger
has despised the daughter of Zion!
Israel’s glory he has flung
from heaven down to earth;
unmindful of his footstool
on the day of his wrath.
2Without pity Yahweh has shattered
in Jacob every dwelling.
He has torn down in his anger
the ramparts of Judah’s daughter.
He has thrown her rulers and her king
to the ground, dishonored.
3 He has cut down in his anger
the horn of Israel’s might.
He has withdrawn his right hand
at the approach of the enemy.
In Jacob, he has blazed like a fire,
he has devoured all around.
4Like an enemy he has bent his bow,
his right hand steadying the arrow.
All our pride of manhood he slew
as he took his stand as a foe,
pouring out fury like fire
upon the tent of Zion’s daughter.
5The Lord has become an enemy
who has laid Israel in ruins.
He has destroyed all her palaces
and laid waste her fortresses.
He has multiplied the tears
of the daughter of Judah.
6Yahweh has wrecked her dwelling,
laid waste her place of meeting.
He has made Zion forget
her appointed feasts and sabbaths;
he has spurned in his fierce wrath
king and prophet and priest.
7The Lord has rejected his altar,
has forsaken his Sanctuary.
He has handed over the walls of her tower to the enemy,
whose triumphant shouts are heard
in the Temple of Yahweh.
8Yahweh resolved to tear down
the ramparts of Zion’s daughter.
He stretched out the measuring line,
and did not relent from bringing ruin.
He made both wall and rampart mourn,
till together they crumbled down.
9Her gates have sunk into the ground;
broken and removed are their bars.
Her king and rulers
live in exile among the nations.
No more message for their prophets,
no more visions from Yahweh.
10The elders of the daughter of Zion
sit in silence upon the ground,
their heads sprinkled with dust,
their bodies wrapped in sackcloth,
while Jerusalem’s young women
bow their heads to the ground.
11With weeping my eyes are spent;
my soul is in torment
because of the downfall
of the daughter of my people,
because children and infants faint
in the open spaces of the town.
12To their mothers they say,
“Where is the bread and wine?”
as they faint like wounded men
in the streets and public squares,
as their lives ebb away
in their mothers’ arms.
13To what can I compare you,
O daughter of Jerusalem?
Who can save or comfort you,
O virgin daughter of Zion?
Deep as the sea is your affliction,
and who can possibly heal you?
14Your prophets’ visions
were worthless and false.
Had they warned of your sins,
your fate might have been averted.
But what they gave you instead
were false, misleading signs.
some clap their hands at the sight;
others wag their heads at the fate
of the daughter of Jerusalem.
“Is this the city that was called
the loveliest, the joy of the world?”
16All your enemies open wide
their mouths against you;
they gnash their teeth, they hiss,
they crow: “We have destroyed her!
This is the day we have waited for;
we have lived to see it happen.”
17Yahweh has accomplished his purpose;
he has fulfilled his word
which he decreed in the days of old;
he overthrew you merciless.
He made your enemies joyful
and gave them power to crush you.
18Cry out to the Lord, O wall
of the daughter of Zion!
Oh, let your tears flow
day and night, like a river.
Give yourself no relief;
grant your eyes no respite.
19Get up, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the watches!
Pour out your heart like water
in the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint with hunger
at the corner of every street.
20Look, Yahweh, and answer:
Why have you treated us like this?
Why must women eat their little ones,
whom they have nursed in their arms?
Why must priest and prophet be slaughtered
in the Sanctuary of the Lord?
21In the dust of the streets
lie the young and the old,
both virgins and young men—
all fallen by the sword.
You have killed on the day of your fury;
you have slaughtered without mercy.
22As for a feast day, you bade
terrors to come from every side.
There was, on the day of your anger,
neither fugitive nor survivor.
My enemy has murdered
all whom I bore and reared.
1I am a man who has known calamity from the rod of his wrath;
2he has driven and brought me
into darkness, not into the light.
3 He turns his hand against me alone,
all the day long, again and again.
4He has worn away my flesh and skin;
he has broken all my bones.
5He assails me and surrounds me
with tribulation and bitterness.
6He leaves me to dwell in darkness,
like those who have long been dead.
7He has walled me in without escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
8I could not even cry for help,
for he has stopped my prayer.
9He bars my way with stones
and left me helplessly alone.
10Like a bear lying in ambush,
like a lion waiting for its prey,
11he lunged at me, tore me to pieces,
and left me alone and helpless.
12Then he drew his bow
and aimed his arrow at me.
13He pierced my sides
with arrows from his quiver.
14I have become a laughingstock,
a topic of songs for all the peoples.
15He has sated me with bitter food;
he has made me drunk with wormwood.
16He has broken my teeth with gravel
and thrown me down in the ashes.
17He has deprived my soul of peace,
till I have forgotten happiness.
18Now I say, “Gone are my hopes
and all my confidence in the Lord.”
19Recalling my affliction and homelessness is wormwood and gall.
20Thinking it over and over
makes my soul downcast.
21But this, when I ponder,
is what gives me hope:
22Yahweh’s love abides unceasingly.
His compassion is never consumed;
23every morning it is renewed.
And his love remains ever faithful.
24“My portion is Yahweh,” says my soul.
“On him shall I rely.”
25Yahweh is good to those who hope in him,
to souls who search for him.
26It is rewarding to wait in silence
for the Lord’s salvation.
27It is good for man to bear the yoke from his youth.
28Let him sit alone in silence
when Yahweh fastens the yoke on him.
29Let him put his lips to the dust
there may still be hope.
30Let him offer his cheek to be struck;
let him be overwhelmed with insult.
31For it is not forever
that the Lord rejects man.
32In the abundance of his love
he punishes, but has compassion.
33For he does not willingly abase
or afflict the human race.
34To trample underfoot
the prisoners of the land,
35to deny a man his rights
in the presence of the Most High,
36to deprive people of justice—
the Lord does not approve of this.
37Who can command and execute
what the Lord has not willed?
38From the mouth of the Most High
come all things, good or bad.
39Why should then mortals complain
when punished for their sin?
40Let us search and examine our ways and return to the Lord.
41Let us lift up our hearts and hands
to God in heaven, and say:
42We have sinned and rebelled,
and you have not forgiven us.
43Clothed in anger you have pursued us without mercy.
44You have wrapped yourself in clouds
so that no prayer can reach you.
45You have reduced us to dust
and refuse among the nations.
46Our foes have opened wide
their mouths against us.
47Terror is our lot:
pitfall, ruin and desolation.
48Great is my grief over the downfall
of the daughter of my people.
49No respite, no relief,
as my tears flow ceaselessly,
50till the Lord looks down
from heaven and sees.
51My soul will grieve in torment
for the women of my city.
52Like a bird I have been hunted
by my foes without cause.
53They flung me alive into a pit
and cast stones at me.
54As the waters closed over my head,
I thought I would never again live.
55Out of the depths I called
on your name, O Yahweh.
56You heard; you have not been deaf
to my cry for relief.
57When I called, you even came near
and told me not to fear.
58O Lord, you took up my case
and redeemed my life.
59You have seen the wrong they did me,
uphold my cause!
60You have seen how resentfully
they plotted to destroy my life.
61O Yahweh, you have heard the insults
hurled at me, their insidious plots;
62You have been aware of their thoughts,
their muttering against me all day long.
63Look at them—sitting or standing—
mocking me in their song!
64Repay them as they deserve,
according to their deeds, O Yahweh.
65Harden their hearts;
hold them under your curse.
66Pursue and destroy them in fury
from under the heavens, O Yahweh.
1How tarnished the gold has become.
The fine gold has lost its luster.
Why, the sacred stones lie strewn
at every street corner!
2Oh, the precious sons of Zion,
once worth their weight in gold—
but now reckoned no more
than earthen jars from a potter’s mold!
3Even jackals bare their breasts
to suckle their young,
but my people have become heartless,
like ostriches in the desert land.
4In thirst the infant’s tongue
cleaves to the roof of its mouth.
Children are begging for alms,
but there is no one to help them.
5Those accustomed to fine food
now lie dying in the streets.
Those accustomed to wear purple
now lie destitute upon the ash heaps.
6The punishment of my people
is greater than that of Sodom,
which was overthrown in an instant,
without a helping hand.
7Brighter than snow were their rulers,
even whiter than milk;
their bodies rosier than coral,
their beauty as radiant as sapphires.
8Now they look blacker than soot,
unrecognized in the streets.
Their emaciated form shows lack of food,
their skin shriveled and dry as wood.
9Better to have died by the sword
than to have perished in hunger.
The famine-stricken people perish,
and slowly, wretchedly, pass away.
10Once loving mothers, our women
have cooked their own children
and made them their food:
such has been the crash of my people!
11Yahweh has given full vent to his wrath;
pouring out his fierce anger.
He has kindled a fire in Zion,
which has consumed her foundation.
12Never had kings believed
nor the world thought possible
that the enemy could break
through the gates of Jerusalem.
13But this happened because of the priests, who sinned,
because of the prophets who transgressed,
shedding in her midst the blood of the just.
14They wandered like blind men,
groping through the streets,
so defiled with blood
that none could touch their garments.
15“Go away!” people cried at them.
“Do not touch us! You are unclean!”
They became fugitives wandering about,
but even the nations would drive them out.
16Yahweh himself has dispersed them;
no longer does he watch over them.
The priests are shown no honor;
the elders are given no favor.
17Our watchmen strained their eyes,
looking for help in vain.
We anxiously waited for an ally,
who failed to save us.
18Like dogs our enemies hounded us
and kept us off the streets.
As our end drew near,
we knew our days were numbered.
19Swifter were our pursuers,
than the eagles in the sky.
Over the hills they chased us,
they waylaid us in the wilderness.
20Our life’s breath, Yahweh’s anointed,
was taken captive in their pit—
he of whom we said, “In his protection
we shall live among the nations.”
21Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom,
you who dwell in the land of Uz.
But you shall be drunk and stripped bare,
for to you also the cup will pass.
22Your ordeal, daughter of Zion, will end;
for your exile will not be prolonged.
But Edom’s daughter will be chastised,
and her wickedness will be exposed.
1Remember, Yahweh, what has befallen us. Look, and see our disgrace,
2our home handed over to strangers, our inheritance to foreigners.
3We are as orphans, fatherless, and early widowed are our mothers.
4Our drinking water we must buy; for our own wood we have to pay.
5With the yoke stifling our breath, without rest we work to death.
6We have bowed down to Egypt, and to Assyria, just to subsist.
7Our ancestors who sinned are no more but we bear their guilt.
8Slaves rule us, and there is no one to rescue us from their hands.
9We brave the desert heat and the sword just to get our hard-earned food.
10Our skin is hot like a furnace, dried up and shriveled by hunger.
11Ravished are the wives in Zion, the virgins in the towns of Judah.
12Princes are hung up by their hands; elders shown no respect.
13Young men toil at the millstones, boys stagger under heavy loads.
14The old have shunned the city gate, the young, their music.
15From our hearts joy is gone; we danced then, but now we lament.
16The garlands have fallen from our heads. Woe upon us, for we have sinned!
17Over all this our hearts are sick; and our eyes have grown weak:
18for we see Mount Zion desolate; the jackals prowl within.
19You, O Yahweh, forever reign; your throne endures from age to age.
20Why, then, should you abandon us, why forget us for so long a time?
21Lead us to you again, O Lord, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old.
23Have you utterly rejected us? Is there no end to your wrath against us?