Sometimes we need to hope when it doesn't make sense to hope
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 30th: Psalm 143; Jeremiah 32:1-9, 36-41; and Matthew 22:23-33. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Let me begin by apologizing for my mistake. I copied the readings intended for today but used them accidentally in yesterday’s Lenten Blog. So now I am copying yesterday’s biblical selections for today’s post.
Jeremiah is confined “in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah.” This was a rather practical decision on the king’s part. The Babylonian army had already marched through the lands of Israel and Judah and were now besieging the capital city of Jerusalem. The situation was obviously dire. The city’s defenders did not need to have a prophet running around Jerusalem telling everyone that their cause was hopeless, that the city would fall to the Babylonians and the king would be dethroned and taken away captive.
Neither did Jeremiah relish this task of preaching defeat and destruction. The Book of Jeremiah is probably the most psychologically revealing of any in the Bible. Jeremiah gives utterance to his internal conflicts that arise as he remains faithful to God’s word while simultaneously regretting what is revealed. In today’s passage, however, there is a prophetic compromise between the two.
Jeremiah’s nephew asks him to purchase a field that he owns. The field is already within the control of the occupying Babylonian army and yet Jeremiah buys it. This is testimony of future restoration. Yahweh has revealed through Jeremiah that the nation will collapse, but through this act Yahweh also promises that this destruction is not final. There will be a time of return and Yahweh promises, “They shall be my people, and I will be their God.”
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus shares the extraordinary message of restoration. Death is not final as the Sadducees believed. Death’s destruction would give way to eternal life. Death would not only be defeated by life’s restoration, but death would be a passage to an entirely new existence. Physical descriptions will become inadequate. Social conventions will no longer suffice. Rather, says Jesus, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
Jeremiah’s prophecy brought hope to people under siege by allowing them to believe that they would someday return. Jeremiah’s purchase of his nephew’s land gives evidence of a return to normalcy. Jesus’ prophecy, on the other hand, is a radical departure from the normal. Jesus’ promise is a revelation of an entirely different existence.
May Lent’s focus on Jesus’ death help us to deal with, one, our mortality, and two, the meanness and savagery of this world. Jerusalem would fall during Jeremiah’s ministry, but it would be rebuilt. Jesus will die on Good Friday, but it is called “Good” because His death promises eternal life and also a different life in this world. Just as Jeremiah’s purchase of a piece of occupied land sent a message of hope so may Jesus’ life-affirming death help us to deal with yet another school shooting, yet more children sacrificed because we cannot control guns but let guns control us. May the cross be like Jeremiah’s land purchase, a sign of a better future. May it give us hope that those six murdered by another gun-wielding murderer, three just 9 years old, may find that other life that surpasses all our descriptions.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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