Saturday, March 24, 2012

Reflections on the Text for Lent V - Jeremiah 31:27-34

Read the text here:Jeremiah 31:27-34

Covenant & Hope
The prophet Jeremiah had railed against the leadership and the people of Judah for their unfaithfulness.  God had initiated a Covenant with them; God had made a promise, but the people had a responsibility to be faithful and they had failed miserably. But now the city of Jerusalem lay in ruins, the King and the leadership were either in chains or dead and, worst of all, the temple was destroyed. The people of Judah were now driven out of their land and taken to Babylon as slaves.  Everything looked dark.  Hope was dead.  The melody of the covenant had been snuffed out.  There was no future for what remained of Israel and Judah.
Or, perhaps, there was hope.  The angry prophet Jeremiah changes his tune and now speaks words of comfort; The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  Jeremiah takes up the tune of the covenant, but it is a new arrangement.  The covenant, renewed and affirmed by God is not destroyed – it stands and is stronger than ever before.  Take up the tune, Jeremiah tells them, and sing it with all your hearts.  For therein lay your hope.
What is a covenant?  We often use this word to refer to a contract, an agreement that is more binding than someone just giving their word.  In our usual understanding and use of the word, a covenant is an agreement we make are between two equal partners, like in a marriage covenant, and includes promises, especially promises of faithfulness.  Usually these contemporary covenants are affirmed by either legal or religious means (a wedding license along with the exchange of vows set within a service of worship).  But there is a distinction to be made between our common 21st century usage of covenant and the Covenant of the Old Testament initiate with Abraham, renewed with Moses and affirmed by Jeremiah.  The major difference is that in the context of the Old Testament the Covenant is drawn between unequal partners – God and the people of Israel.  So it is God that initiates it, it is God who makes the promises; it is God who determines the expectations. The Covenant is then a gift bestowed which does call forth a response, such as following the Torah, which is to be done in gratitude for the gift.  If we think of the Covenant as a tune, God as the composer, and our calling is to respond by taking up the tune, singing and tune and teaching this tune to others.  Our hope then rests in this.  If the tune dies out then hope appears dead.  But as long as the melody goes on there is hope.
Fast forward to a hill outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha.  There we see three crosses.  The cross in the center is Jesus, the Messiah, God’s Son who has been singing the song of the Covenant and who inspired such great hope.  But now, looking on this scene, it appears that the tune has been snuffed out.  Hope is dead.  The disciples have fled.  The only ones who remain are a few women and the disciple John who stand there looking on this hopeless sight.  But the amazing thing about God is that God can bring light out of darkness, life out of death, hope from despair and hopelessness and melody from discord or silence.  Jesus will burst forth from the tomb and the melody of the covenant will continue to be sung.  And we are the ones who are called to take up the song of the Covenant, for in this is hope and trust that God has not abandoned us and will accomplish all that God has promised.  Taking up the song means to move forward, to live faithfully, to love others as God has loved us and to live in ways that reflect our hope and trust in the one who was crucified and rose again on the third day.
I will close this reflection with two wonderful quotes from my friend, retired Bishop and Lutheran Summer Music Chaplain Wayne Weissenbueler:
Hope is not a feeling.  Hope is a choice.  In the midst of despair and seeming hopelessness we can choose to carry on.  There is no greater hope than that.   
Hope is the ability to hear the melody of the future and faith (trust) is the courage to dance to this melody in the present.
May we all, no matter what our circumstances, be able to hear the tune of the Covenant and to sing it with hope, trusting in the promises which God has made to us at our Baptism.
"Jeremiah" by Michelangelo
The quotes above by Bishop Weissenbuehler are from his commentary for the 2011 Hymn Festival at Lutheran Summer Music, held at Luther College.  For more information on Lutheran Summer Music go to: Lutheran Summer Music Program

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