1"At that time," says the Lord, "I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people."
2Thus says the Lord: "The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest."
3The Lord appeared to me from long ago: "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
4"Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take up your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
5"Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit.
6For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: 'Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.'"
7For thus says the Lord: "Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, 'Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.'
8"See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.
9"With weeping they shall come, and with consolations. I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn."
10Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, "He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock."
11For the Lord has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12"They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd;their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.
13Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry.I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty," says the Lord.
This reading springs to life in this time of COVID, this time of loss, these wilderness weeks and months of wondering what's next. Jeremiah's words help us hope during literal exile from much of what we knew and assumed would continue. God, we are so thankful for all that's brought us together. Where would we be without essential medical and municipal workers? Where would we still be without masks and vaccines? Help us hold unto your promises and trust in the grace-filled future you're preparing for us.
In the name of Jesus,
© Leah Chang
…include the former prophets Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, the writing prophets or latter prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel plus the Book of the Twelve or the Minor Prophets that are minor in length but not minor in content. Scripture distinguishes between prophet or nabi, who speaks truth to power, lining out alternatives (the reigning monarch most characteristically being that power), and seer or roeh, who peers into the future and predicts what will happen. Later in the history of Israel the roles became somewhat conflated.
Continuing the tradition of the pentateuch or first five books of the Hebrew Bible, prophets bring an authoritative Word of the Lord; pentateuch and prophets emphasize God's covenanting with all creation as they reveal an active, intervening, trustworthy God.
Jeremiah was a priest from the Benjaminite tradition; the Apostle Saul/Paul of Tarsus also came from the tribe of Benjamin. Although he may have lived in a mostly oral tradition that transmitted texts by talking, listening, hearing, and sharing again, Jeremiah probably had some written-down texts in his possession, and he had his own scribe. As he responds to "Is there a Word from the Lord," Jeremiah is The Classic Prophet. He also is within the tradition of Deuteronomy with its care for the marginalized, the neighbor, the stranger, the immigrant, the sojourner. Jeremiah would have known much if not all of Deuteronomy that influenced him during his forty year long ministry. In fact, the book of Jeremiah probably got edited by the same post-[Babylon] exilic committee that compiled the Pentateuch and the Former Prophets.
Jeremiah ministered before and during the Babylonian exile. In the scripture selection for today, the prophet speaks hope to people who have experienced extreme social, cultural, and religious dislocation. Today's lection brings assurance of God's redemptive faithfulness that will bring healing and joy to land and people.
Pentecost 22; COVID-19
Today's reading comes out of chapters 30 to 33 that collectively sometimes are called the Book of Consolation or Comfort and contrast with much of the rest of the Jeremiah.
For this Sunday, the Lectionary specifies only verses 7 through 9 of chapter 31 that later on announces God's New Covenant; those three verses come out of a longer passage appointed for Easter Day Year A (Jeremiah 31:1-6) and every year for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (Jeremiah 31:7-14). Through Jeremiah, God promises homecoming, restoration, and joy! Scriptural proclamations like this will continue to be huge in months – and probably years – ahead as world, church, and individuals recover and rebuild in the wake of the unprecedented devastation the worldwide pandemic has caused.
Wilderness for Jeremiah and his original audience could have meant the Exodus desert that formed God's people Israel; it could have been the current Babylon exile, or maybe both. COVID-19 has meant a degree of wilderness for absolutely everyone, even those who haven't lost loved ones, income, or their way of life because of the pandemic.
God restores and redeems the people and the land who depend on each other. God brings us home. Yet God also calls us to transform wherever we are into home, into a safe, welcoming, fruitful place. The way our scriptures are arranged, a couple of chapters earlier Jeremiah counsels (maybe that's consoles?) the captives in Babylon with the very original Bloom Where You're Planted:
Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and enjoy their bounty. Seek the wellbeing of wherever you are, even though it's unexpected exile from the familiar and the loved, because if the place where you are is healthy and well, you and your family will thrive and be whole. 29:4-7
The hope-filled witness of scripture never quits reassuring us! To quote Pastor James Howell, "God just can't stop making life happen."
Grace in the wilderness and everlasting love!