Desperate mothers cooked their babies – that was how bad it got and it sounds unreal – God’s people ate their children. God’s own people! God’s city, Jerusalem, was under siege and the sighs and screams of God’s people echo in Jeremiah’s Lamentations. They felt their lives had been consumed; they felt they had nothing left. They were angry about the burdens of their hardship; they felt unfairly abandoned and abused – and God spoke through Jeremiah – with the true label for old pain – new mercy. The people just didn’t recognize it for what it was – they were weighed down, but with the great love of God. They were Burdened with Mercy.
By God’s grace, we haven’t generally experienced anything like that – most of us. But we are burdened with the things of life: jobs that annoy us; money that runs out all too quickly; decisions to make and decisions not made the way we like; sicknesses and heartaches that are about to overwhelm us; or solitude and loneliness that weigh heavy on our hearts. Jeremiah’s opening verses in ch.3 describe us well at times: affliction, grown old with broken bones, dwelling in darkness, made to be a laughingstock, deprived of peace, strangers to prosperity. The question for the believer is: what do you do in these things?
One of the most common temptations, we might call, “Las Vegas Syndrome.” I mean like a Vegas commercial from a number of years ago that said, “What happens in Vegas should be happening to YOU!” Isn’t that our attitude sometimes? About life in general – that the best, the exciting, the good should be happening to me? But in reality, that’s rarely true. Life isn’t most often yachting the Gold Coast and finding true love or hitting a hole in one. It’s a stinky, slow garbage barge, and loneliness, and sand traps more. And, like Israel, we can say (and maybe often), “What’s happening in my life shouldn’t be happening to me.”
So that when, in vv.25-27, Jeremiah calls us to “wait for the Lord”, sometimes that’s the last thing we want because we just don’t want to wait that long. Jeremiah calls it “good” to wait quietly for the Lord – though beaten and burdened – waiting for salvation. And we might be content to wait: to wait with expectation and hope for good from God’s hand; to wait with expectation and hope while receiving good from God’s hand; and we see it as strong faith. But it can also be no faith at all. Instead it can be a faith in our own happiness – the kind that rejects the reality of v.38 “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”
Actually, the question we most often want answer to is, “Why? Why is this happening to me?” For Israel of old the burdens came because of their sins. They had turned away from God completely, so he brought devastation. But I don’t know your sins – nor God’s judgments. We do know that, practically, sins we have done bring difficulties often – disagreements, divorces, sometimes sickness – because of choices we’ve made and their ramifications in real life – hardship, burdens. Not knowing each of your sins, we could instead just talk about suffering – that in this life, because of sin (hated, murder, greed, disease) there is suffering of all kinds.
Whether we like them or not, the reason the various things come is very simple. Jeremiah highlights the perspective with the reminder in v.24, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” and later on in vv.40-42 he calls us to action, “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: ‘We have sinned and rebelled…’” Which is right. For among our sins there can be bitter dissatisfaction; refusing to accept this life for the way God has prepared it. And for our own sinful complaints and self-satisfactions, we can acknowledge that we are deserving of certain things – like punishment, pain, and torment – of the eternal kind. And, acknowledging these, we should calculate that, in fact, it is only “because of the Lord’s great mercy we are not consumed (Lam 3:22).”
But acknowledge it! We aren’t consumed! God didn’t have to reveal himself; he didn’t have to create us or give us lives with any attention at all. He wasn’t obligated to reach out to Israel of old in their constant sin, nor to you or me. But he did give us mercies, “new every morning.” With mercy new, as Savior he walked among us and reached out to those in need. With mercy new, he went to the cross and died in a way that never happened before – all sins laid on one, every devastation pressed down on one man. With mercy new, on that Easter morning, Jesus conquered sin and death and walked out of the tomb alive to bring mercy to you; to bring the salvation of the Lord to us; and to shift what we consider mercy, frankly.
In Jeremiah’s Lamentations 3, it’s notable that the prophet doesn’t turn away all the difficulties, or wipe away the tears. No, even after our hopeful / saving verses, tears and troubles remain. It’s just about perspective: these don’t outlast God’s mercy, “His compassions never fail.” Instead, in any of our experiences, be they dark clouds and heavy burdens or laughing children and peace of mind, these all are occasions for the trusting, repentant heart to look to the Lord for saving love that lasts, a portion forever. The children of God acknowledge that they’ve got burdens – they’ve been Burdened with Mercy – which is something to cherish.
The situation is – forgiven in Jesus Christ, my sins do not bring punishment from God – yet in my life I may experience hardship and pain and suffering, because of myself or because of other things. And these are hard to carry, aren’t they? One summer a long time ago I helped some friends fill some outdoor playground postholes with cement. 6,400 lbs. of heavy cement bags – they’re just not fun to carry. After a while that burden gets to you – it hurts. But if you heard that we carried bags of gold around the playground – I doubt you would hear complaints. No, “We carried 6,400 lbs. of gold ($182 million!) and now we’re all rich!” That’s what you’d hear.
In carrying our difficult burdens, do we sometimes forget what we carry? Our lives are treasures from God: weighty, heavy treasures of inestimable value. Our eternal lives are on deposit with God above and his eternal love is on deposit in our hearts – a precious treasure to guard. They’re lives touched by God’s Savior with opportunities to wait on the Lord and moments made for trusting in him, to know that the Lord is our portion and he brings compassion and salvation. And though it be heavy, that’s treasure – receiving mercies immeasurable. That’s how Jeremiah describes God’s mercy in verse 32, “If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense (Lam 3:32, The Message).”
Didn’t we see that in the gospel this morning? Immense love? It came for Jairus and his daughter. Jairus comes asking for help and healing – his daughter is sick. Jesus comes, but our gospel reading skipped over the 10 verses of Jesus dealing with another woman who was sick. 10 verses of Jairus waiting – his daughter dying. And then the friends came to announce that it was all too late and the girl was dead. No hope. But Jesus calmly says, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe…” And then he showed how bountiful his mercy is and raised that girl to new life. That’s how immense God’s stockpiles of loyal love are for you every day. They outlast the miseries and stretch over the griefs. His love is everlasting. And it means that even the burdens are covered with mercy.
Children of God, cherish this burden of mercy. Every morning mercies new: possibilities for living in love for God and for sharing faith. With many gifts, by which we can exercise our faith – a church budget for ministry, a school, free-time at home, hobbies, friends and family. And challenges too. Daily we walk through trial and trouble and hardship and pain. In all of them, as Jeremiah says, “seek the Lord” and “return to [him]” and “lift up [your] hearts and [your] hands to God in heaven.” With St. Paul, don’t be ashamed about our Lord but join in “suffering for the gospel” by God’s power – suffering for the sake of the gospel and suffering with the comfort of the gospel. Trusting that Jeremiah is right, “Though [the Lord] brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.” Acknowledge it and cherish it – “the Lord is good to those who hope in him (Lam 3:25).” We may carry many burdens, but by his grace in Christ Jesus, We are Burdened with Mercy.