You will find an introduction to Lamentations, here.
Here is a prayer to use before reading, by Origen (c. 185 – c. 254) an early church father from Alexandria.
Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and meditate upon them day and night. We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put its precepts into practice. Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love. So we ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts. Amen.
1:1-22 First Lament over Jerusalem. Verses 1-11 are the lament of the narrator and verses 12-23 are the lament of the city. In the first section, Jerusalem is portrayed as a widowed and abandoned woman. Zion is another name for Jerusalem. In verse 12, the phrase “was brought” is in Hebrew a stronger word and conveys violence. In verse 17 “Jacob” is a way of referring to Judah. Notice the repetition of the phrase, “no one to comfort her/me”. The references to “lovers” is an allusion to Jerusalem being unfaithful to God.
2:1-22 Second Lament, The Lord had become like an Enemy. Notice the change in tone and focus, from lament to anger and from the victim to God. In verses 1-10 God, in anger, destroys Jerusalem and the nation of Judah. The “footstool” is a reference to either the ark of the covenant or the Temple. The “right hand” is a symbol of God’s power. Verses 11-19 are the narrator’s reaction. Verses 20-22 are Jerusalem’s response to God. A terrible description of famine, death, and suffering.
3:1-66 Individual lament. This is the longest and most complex of the laments. It is a triple acrostic, each stanza had three verses each using a successive letter of the alphabet. The obvious subdivisions based on content do not match the alphabetic acrostic pattern. How does that affect the reading of the lament? We do not know who the speaker is. Jeremiah, Zedekiah or Jehoiachin have been suggested but the speaker may also be a literary persona. Notice there are similarities in language between this chapter and the book of Job. In verses 1-20 how is God described? What does the author say God does? In verses 21-24 the earlier despair turns to hope. Verses 25-39 resemble wisdom literature as the author works to find hope within the suffering. Verses 25-27 each begin with the word “good”. Verses 40-47 are a communal lament, with the use of “we” rather than “I”. In verses 48-66 the lament returns to an individual lament. Verses 64-66 are a call for retribution.
4:1-22 Third Lament of the community under siege. This lament, like chapters 1 and 2, is divided between two speakers. The effects of starvation are described graphically. Verses 1-10 describe the suffering of the siege. Earthen pots (v 2) were cheap and easily broken. Gold, of course, is a costly and durable material. Jackals were thought to be despised scavengers. Ostriches were believed to be cruel and neglectful parent. Verses 11-16 describe God’s punishment. People had believed that God would not allow his city to be destroyed. Verses 17-22 are the speech of the community. Judah relied on the help of other nations, (v17) contrary to the advise of prophets like Jeremiah. “The Lord’s anointed” is likely a reference to the last king of Judah, Zedekiah. Edom, associated with Esau (Gen 36) was a traditional enemy of Judah. Edom is, in postexhilic writing, often the recipient of negative comments.
5:1-22 A communal lament from the survivors, after the destruction. This is a call to God to remember and restore God’s people. Assyria and Egypt (v 6) were superpowers and traditional enemies of Israel. “Iniquities” in verse 7 can also mean punishment. Verses 11-14 describe the collapse of the social order. Hanging people by their hands is thought to be a form of torture and humiliation. Grinding (v 13) was “woman’s work” and thus demeaning for a man to do. Verse 19 is a strong statement about God. The book ends with a plea and with despair.
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of Lamentations
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Berlin, Adele, “Lamentations” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version.Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A. (2010-01-20) Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Gottwald, Norman K. “Lamentations” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
O’Connor, Kathleen M. “Lamentations”,in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Vol 6 Keck, Leander E. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1996