For those who want a change from the Gospel
Easter Day – Jeremiah 31:1-6
Part 2 of this week’s OT Lectionary blog celebrates Easter Day with a slightly more joyful and positive message for the Church. Like passages from Deutero-Isaiah, Jeremiah 31 is an oracle of restoration, which looks beyond the current situation of exile and suffering to a more glorious future, in other words a kind of resurrection. Like Isaiah 40, it begins with a reaffirmation that the covenant deal is still on, that, in the words which echo back to the covenant with Abraham, God will be their God and they will be his people, a reassuring statement for those who must have felt that they had gone beyond the pale with God, who had disowned them and banished them out of the land he had promised and given to them. No, say both Jeremiah and Isaiah, the relationship is still on. The resurrection of Jesus similarly promises to his people that nothing can separate us from his love, apart, of course, from our own deliberate and persistent rejection of it.
But the rest of our text for today spells out in more detail what that deal actually means, and resurrection rings through it, as Jeremiah lists six ingredients, or gifts we are given because of the victory of God over the evils which captivate us, and the forgiveness of the sins which enslave us.
We can enter rest. This is the equivalent of the ‘comfort’ which Isaiah promised to the exiles, an end to anxiety and the assurance of good things to come, which mean that we need be anxious about nothing. Our sins are forgiven and our hard service over.
We can be loved. God’s love is everlasting and constant, even though at times it is unrequited. For God’s people, the good news is, in the words of the old adage, if you feel far away from God, it is you who have moved. God’s love is not unconditional, but it is available, and always will be while we are on this earth.
We are drawn. If something has come between us and God, if we have experienced some kind of exile, it is not up to us to find our way back home, any more than the lost sheep in Jesus’ parable had to sort herself out and come back to the shepherd. Like the lost son’s father, God is out looking for us, and runs to welcome us back into the family.
We are rebuilt. Like the exiled Jews we have all know times when things all around us have collapsed. It might be bereavement, illness, some enormous failure from which we feel we can never recover, but the good news is the same. If even death itself can be overturned, there is nothing, nothing, which cannot experience resurrection and rebuilding. Therefore
We can be joyful. We might not quite be up to dancing with tambourines, but the Bible is full of promises of the restoration of those who are weeping and mourning, as a down payment towards the time when sadness and misery will forever be things of the past.
We can be fruitful. One of the main curses of the exile was having to leave the land, which throughout the OT is seen as a gift from God, and a place of fruitfulness, thanks to its position in the fertile crescent. For an people of an agrarian culture the Israelites must have found living in the desert a difficult experience, as indeed it had been for them as slaves in Egypt. The prophet promises fruitfulness for those who may well have felt that were wasting their lives away. Resurrection holds out to those who feel that their lives are a waste of time the promise of purpose, effectiveness and results. We really can make a difference.
We can be attractive. We are so often used, as members of Christ’s Church, to being marginalised, or as we considered three days ago, despised and rejected. The prophets have many passages on the time when rather than hate us and our God, people will flock to us to find wisdom and to feast on the good things which God offers us. Resurrection tells us that not only will we make it to Zion, the heavenly sanctuary, but many other will too, because of the witness of our words and lives.