Mar21SunSermon for Lent 5 B (Jeremiah 31:31-34) March 21, 2021
Our first reading today, from Jeremiah,
is taken from what is known as “The Book of consolation”,
a collection of writings written for the people of Judah over a period of time, from when Jerusalem was being besieged by the Babylonians,
up until the time when many of them were deported to exile and they were feeling pretty down in the dumps.
It was a dangerous and depressing time for Judah,
where they felt like all their old certitudes were being destroyed,
their normal way of living was turned upside down,
and they were feeling lost.
In a way, our current pandemic situation is similar to what the first hearers of this text were going through.
Our normal has been destroyed for a year now,
we never imagined something like this could happen,
this pandemic has gone on for much longer
than most of us would have believed,
and we are getting weary.
But there is hope ahead.
Consolation from God is promised.
Restoration is promised for Israel and Judah after their exile in Babylon.
“The days are surely coming, when
I will save you!
You shall be my people, I will be your God.”
Like the Israelites, we long for redemption,
Our society has been wounded,
But God will heal, and there will be redemption.
God consoles us and will comfort us.
God’s love for us is persistent, bringing us from old to new,
helping us come to grips with change,
and forgiving us and strengthening us in our times of trial.
The siege of Jerusalem was a real calamity, a real mortal threat,
There were actual soldiers outside the walls, with real weapons,
And the threat of disaster with a massive, powerful army within earshot,
In such a siege, if you’re lucky, your family will be divided up,
If unlucky, they’ll be wiped out.
Documents will be burned, the institutions will be lost which you relied on for your identity and faith,
Everything is at risk of destruction.
In such an extreme crisis, we hear the pleas of the Psalmist:
“God, do not cast me from your presence,
I’m afraid, God, don’t abandon me,
please be persistent with your love, mercy and care!”
In our year of living with COVID-19,
many of us have felt like we’re under siege as well.
We’ve been fearful these past 12 months.
Some of us have wondered…
will I be the next one?
Oh no, my child has the sniffles, is that the virus?
I have to get tested, how long until I get the results?
I have a loved one in a nursing home, is COVID going to enter into there?
During these episodes of quarantine and lockdown, we have felt besieged,
not by soldiers with swords and spears,
but by little microbes too small to see,
hidden in particles of liquid.
What is worse, the enemy you can see, or the enemy you can’t see?
The institutions and social functions we relied on to get through difficult times for us in the past are just not there…
we can’t gather in the church building to worship,
we can’t gather as extended families to hug.
These past 12 months have felt like a siege, like an exile.
We were mostly hopeless before the vaccines were announced late 2020.
But we have hope now that some day, it will be over.
The days are surely coming.
Consolation and comfort are coming.
V31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and Judah.
V33 I will put my law within them, I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God and they shall be my people!
FOR they shall all know me! From the least to the greatest!
FOR I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.
GRACE and MERCY will abound.
Now as Christians, esp. in this last Sunday of Lent,
looking towards Christ’s passion, death and resurrection in Holy Week,
we usually interpret this passage in that the older covenant of Moses is being set aside,
or rather comes into full realization in the coming of Jesus.
We even divide the Bible in two parts, the first being the Old Testament,
or Old Covenant (or contract),
and the second, the New Testament, or New Covenant.
With the coming of Jesus (which is dealt with in the New Testament),
we talk about how Jesus brought about the new covenant that was foretold by the prophets.
Jesus himself, in the institution of the Lord’s Supper, says:
the cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood! (Luke 22)
Jesus makes a new contract, a new agreement or covenant with us, through his death and resurrection.
We are then justified through the Holy Spirit’s redeeming work in us,
not by anything that we do, but alone by God’s grace, mercy and love.
God is incredibly tenacious.
Great is God’s faithfulness!
God’s love for us is relentless and his mercy is persistent.
Time and time again, when times get tough, when we abandon God,
when our certitudes fail, God is there and says:
I will be your God and you shall be my people!
God will let Godself be known,
And this is the mystery
That is particularly being worked out during this pandemic.
Maybe some of you have felt very disconnected from your faith,
esp. when you can’t “go to church.”
You may wonder: “How is the relationship working with God,
when I can’t maintain it through my normal habits, like going to church,
or attending Bible study in person?
Well, this passage is like a warm hug from a loved one:
It reminds us: even if you are feeling like this relationship is not working, God is still there.
Even if you can’t, God can.
We may have to continue waiting,
(and boy have we gotten good at waiting this last year,)
It is an ongoing process, and our patience is being tested,
And we long for words of hope in these troubled times.
Yet, the Spirit continues to blow,
And like the Israelites who waited for the redemption of Israel,
so we wait, knowing that redemption came in Jesus Christ,
but full, complete redemption on our earth is still lacking…
there is still so much evil, sin and imperfection around,
Climate-change denial, racism, sexism and homophobia still haunt us.
We continue to wait for that time, the time that is surely coming,
where everyone will have God’s law written on their hearts
and there will be peace and justice throughout the globe.
That time, when God will be intimately indwelling in all of us,
like an intimate spousal relationship,
where we will know God fully, not just in parts of our mind,
but in all our hearts, our complete being,
And there will be no room for anything else.
We still are longing for the full realization of this promise,
where there will be a complete
“inward transformation of the human heart that will allow [all]…people to know God intimately and to be obedient to the commandments”
We still live in hope, like the Apostle Paul, (2Cor 3:18)
that seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror,
we are [continually] being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
And so we pray to the God who gives us life and breath:
refresh us with the living spring of hope that never dies,
And help us know your love for us is persistent,
and forgiving us and strengthening us in our times of affliction.