This weekend (Aug. 10 – 11, 2019) our Jewish brothers and sisters are coming to the end of “the nine days” before their day of fasting and mourning on Tisha B’Av – the Ninth day of the month of Av. Tradition says, on that same day, the first and second Temples were destroyed, 656 years apart. Both events began the exiles of Jews from their land. Other disastrous events occurred to the Jewish people on that day throughout history. They fast, pray, remember, reflect, and mourn. The book of the Lamentations of Jeremiah is read. Every year.
I’m not Jewish, so I can’t speak for them, but I appreciate their contribution to our understanding of the roots of our own Christian faith. We make a big mistake when we detach ourselves from the roots. Their role as a light to the nations can still shed light on us, so I’m still learning by trying to catch some rays.
Nothing compares to Tisha B’Av in either Christian or American experience. The only examples that approach it are perhaps September 11th, Pearl Harbor Day, or for coastal residents, the anniversaries of particular hurricanes like Katrina. We remember, but we don’t set the day apart to fast and consciously grieve the losses, because none of those tragedies have the catastrophic consequence of Tisha B’Av for Jews or Israel. In the Christian calendar, our Lenten season has some elements of this with personal reflection and self-denial, but it ends with tragedy-turned-to-triumph on Resurrection Day.
You may think, why would anyone want to engage in intentional grieving like this? Every year? Well, maybe nobody. Have you ever read Lamentations? It’s aptly named as the prophet Jeremiah’s lament of pain for the devastation of everything he held dear. He weeps for the tremendous suffering. It’s one of the most depressing books in the Bible. The Hebrew name is Eikhah, which is related to the word how.
This gets me back to the subject of grief, which I addressed in my blog post of two days ago. I called it “Grief is Hard Work.” In case you missed it, you can read it here:
I touched on the stages of grief, as defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and noted that grief is cyclical. Any of those stages may be repeated as the healing process works itself out in our souls.
The bargaining phase is where that question of how pops up. It’s a better question than why, which may never be answered this side of eternity.
When horrific accidents happen, and expert investigators are called in to examine the site, they are searching to answer, “How did this happen?” The intent is to figure out what we can do to prevent it from happening again. What can we fix? How can we improve, so that it may be avoided next time? How could we have responded differently?
So many things are out of our control, but we need to accept responsibility when some things are a result of our poor decisions. There are things I could have done differently every day. I thank God for His mercy that my choices and behaviors don’t result in disaster on a daily basis.
So back to Tisha B’Av and Lent. The element of self-reflection and repentance is present in both. How have I contributed to the problems in my life and the lives of others? How have I offended God? How can I improve this situation and make it better? I’m sorry for what I’ve done both willfully and inadvertently.
But Tisha B’Av is more about a national repentance – as a body, a people-group. When we value our individualism over community we may miss this. Not only am I responsible for my own actions, but I have a responsibility regarding my affiliations. This is a huge subject that requires more than I can address here.
But I will say, that in this nation, we have not come to a place of repentance yet. Many people have offered prophetic warnings of the need to examine ourselves and turn around. Return to God. How many times have we heard Second Chronicles 7:14:
“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Perhaps our National Day of Prayer each May could also be compared to Judaism’s Tisha B’Av, but it’s still not far reaching enough for us as a nation. We are not in agreement on what needs to be fixed. We can’t even agree on what we need to repent for. We don’t grieve. Like the commercial says, “Sorry. Not sorry.”
And how do we reconcile that with actually belonging to another Kingdom, “not of this world?”
Lamentations does have a few hopeful verses. One is read in every Shabbat service, as the Torah scroll is returned to the ark, its resting place for the week.
“Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we will be restored; Renew our days as of old,” – Lamentations 5:21
The hope for restoration and renewal is there. Repentance and returning is the way it will happen.