Proper 22C / Ordinary 27C / Pentecost +20
October 6, 2013
Luke 17:5-10How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! – (Lamentations 1:1)
The city of Washington, DC was very lonely this week. Normally bustling streets stood empty, monuments were barred, and merchants cut back their hours because their normal clientele had been furloughed and sent home without pay. A city that was supposed to be the hub of the free world now sits largely abandoned. One woman I know commented “It’s just depressing. I’ve been through furloughs before, but this one is different. It’s just plain mean-spirited.”
The Hebrew Bible reading for this week is the beginning of the Book of Lamentations, traditionally attributed to the prophet Jeremiah. The book narrates the grief of the people of the city Jerusalem, who were taken captive and kept in exile by the conquering Babylonians in 587 BCE. While the book of Jeremiah prophesies the end of Jerusalem and decries the iniquity leading up to its end, the Book of Lamentations examines the aftermath.
(The group “Sweet Honey in the Rock” puts this Psalm to music in their moving remake of Bob Marley’s “Waters of Babylon“.)
Those of us who are civil servants are certainly in a place of mourning and exile this week. We love our jobs. We want to contribute to our nation’s well-being. While a great deal of commentary has been expended on how we got to the shutdown of the government, those of us on receiving end of it simply want it to be over. In the exile of our homes, we grieve for our daily routine and live in fear of what the future brings.
I would like to dispel the idea that the furlough is a “paid vacation.” There is nothing vacation-like about this situation. There is no guarantee A) that the government will open back up any time soon or B) that federal workers will be compensated when it does. And in the meantime, bills keep coming due from creditors who do not care whether or not we get paid.
When I went to donate at the local food pantry today, the woman there asked if I was furloughed. I said that I was, and she quietly handed me a postcard advertising a “food for furlough” event on Monday. I almost sat down and cried right there. For those of you who are also grieving, know that you are not alone. Like the exiles in Babylon, we can make it through this if we gather together in community and plan for the long-haul. The book of Lamentations does not offer any neat solutions or happy endings, but there is the knowledge that, in grieving, our voices still reach YHWH.