If you are listening to Morning Prayer through Lent you will know that the Old Testament readings are from Jeremiah. These “prophecies”, these proclamations, speeches, sermons, whatever we try and call them, are grouped together with very little narrative to join them. It is not easy to know where one stops and the next starts, nor do we know when Jeremiah first spoke them, nor to whom.
They are strange and troubling speeches, and Jeremiah was called by God to speak about an impending ‘disaster’, the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, because the people had abandoned God, given up and gone their own way.
It is summed up in ch 2 v 11 in this way
For my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
This vivid image challenges us and our world. A people who have forsaken God, who so wondrously offers living water, fresh, flowing water, and instead have decided to do it themselves, creating systems, deciding how they are going to live (without reference to God) and the cisterns / systems they make are cracked so they no longer hold water.
This is a challenge for us, as a local church, and as a community and nation. There isn’t space in a short piece of writing to explore the various ways in which the Old Testament understands why bad things happen; for the poor it happens to them, for the more powerful, it is seen as – in part – their responsibility for the decisions they have made, and a judgement on their treatment of others.
Wherever we are in terms of relative power and privilege, we all face the difficulties of covid restrictions (and for some they are harder to bear than for others), we all live with the effects of Brexit, of Climate Change, of the decisions of powerful leaders wherever in the world (and again some are affected so much more than others). Jeremiah is reduced to deep anguish at what is happening, and we should be moved, ashamed, hurt, troubled by some of what goes on. Jeremiah speaks against what is wrong, and we need to learn to find a voice, use our voice, put pressure on (wisely), and Jeremiah takes his anguish to God in prayer, beseeching God, arguing with God, learning to bear the challenge of being on God’s side when most are wanting a different answer.
Jeremiah is not an easy book, but within the hurt and anguish, Jeremiah also finds hope, and discovers that God does not entirely give up, even when God’s people have pretty much entirely given up on God. Jeremiah continues to believe that God will offer this fountain of living water, through the difficulties, even through the war and destruction, and we will discover in Christ that God can make all things new, even a crucified lacerated body.
May we commit to seeking the living water, and repent where we have tried to find alternative systems / cisterns. It is a vivid image, but one that can catch the mind and soul.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied’ –
Let us thirst for the fountain of living water, drink from it, and commit to follow in God’s ways.
Rev’d Peter Reiss