The threat and the reality of exile resurface time and again in the Hebrew Bible. Historically, Israel and Judah experienced a number of major exiles. The northern kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians around 720 BCE. These exiled people were deported and scattered within the Assyrian Empire, although we know little of their fate. In 597 BCE, the elite of the southern kingdom of Judah, including the prophet Ezekiel and those who had been in power, were exiled by the Babylonians as they asserted power over their weaker neighbour.
Jerusalem, the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, was besieged in 589 BCE by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II. The city fell after an eighteen-month siege and Nebuchadnezzar pillaged and destroyed the city and burned the First Temple. After the fall of Jerusalem, the Judeans were exiled to Babylon. The fallen kingdom was then annexed as a Babylonian province. Some Judeans fled to Egypt, although some also managed to remain behind in Judah their homeland.
Clearly, the ‘People of God’ were no strangers to foreign aggression, occupation and exile. Much of the Book of Isaiah, as well as those of other prophets, give us insight into how the people reacted to and subsequently coped with these things.
The most important lesson that people coming into ministry have to learn (often the hard way) is that they often can’t do anything about the pain, the grief and the sorrow of those committed to their charge. It’s a hard lesson. When people are suffering, you want nothing more than to take their pain away and not being able to do so makes you feel useless, inadequate and impotent. It takes time to learn that what you need to do is to walk alongside them, give them the time and space to talk, as they work through what’s happening to them and adjust to their changed circumstances.
Prayer, lament and more prayer are the tools that the people of Judah and Israel used as they adjusted to their new situation. These are the tools that the clergy and others in ministry use as they walk alongside others and offer a listening ear.
It’s for this reason that the last two Lent Study Groups (2020 and 2021) have focussed on Prayer and Lament respectively. These are the tools that we all need as we struggle to make sense of what is happening in Ukraine, when we feel powerless and impotent in the face of the Russian invasion and other situations.
For those who weren’t able to take part in these groups, and those who did, but would like a refresher, the resources are all still available on our web site (https://episcopaldornochtain.org/study-group-resources/). If you’re unable to access them from there, or would like help, please get in touch with a member of the clergy. Meantime, if we can all take time to pray for the Ukrainian people both at home and abroad, it might “by the power of the one at work within us, accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” (Eph 3:20).
ALMIGHTY God, from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed: Save and deliver us, we humbly beseech thee, from the hands of our enemies; abate their pride, assuage their malice, and confound their devices; that we, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore from all perils, kindle, we pray thee, in the hearts of all people the true love of peace, and guide with thy pure and peaceable wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth; that in tranquillity thy kingdom may go forward till the earth be filled with the knowledge of thy love; through the merits of thy only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.