Narrative Lectionary Reflection
November 22, 2020
Read: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Imagine with me that you wake up one morning and everything seems normal. You listen to the news on the television and make breakfast and then head to work.
When you get there, you expect to see your friend Bruce. You’ve known him for nine years and his personality is such that everyone in the office knows who Bruce is. You pass his desk and it’s empty. In fact, it seems like no one had used his cubicle for months. There is no nameplate or anything that shows he worked at your office. You ask around what happened to Bruce. Everyone gives you a strange look. To a person, no one remembers Bruce. At first you think it’s a joke, but then you realize people are serious. They act like Bruce never existed.
You get to work, but you have this odd feeling. Why can you remember Bruce, but no one else can?
The day ends and you get back to your home to get ready to have dinner with your brother Nathan and Aunt Sophie. You get ready and drive to the restaurant. You see your brother you start catching up on things. After a while, you ask where is Aunt Sophie. Nathan gives you a blank look. He asks who is Sophie. You tell him that she’s your father’s sister and has two kids: Ben and Olivia. But those names don’t register either. Now you start to get nervous. You finish dinner and get to bed hoping this is just a weird day.
The next day, you give Nathan a call. The phone rings and rings, when finally a woman picks up. You know this is Carol, Nathan’s finance. You ask to speak to your brother and for a moment, there is silence. She doesn’t know a Nathan. You are shocked. Nathan and Carol had dated for six years.
You hang up the phone. You wonder what in the world is going on.
This keeps happening over a few days. Friends, relatives and significant others just seem to vanish with the people around them having no memory of their existence. One day, you realize everyone around you has vanished. You sit in your room, in tears. You pledge to remember these people, to believe they existed and mattered. And you hope one day they will return. You hope you won’t be forgotten.
In our text this week, the people of Israel are not in a good place. This text is being written to a people who have gone through the worst thing possible, at least to them. Their homeland, Judah or the Southern Kingdom was one of the last places standing during the rise of the Babylonian Empire. Finally, the Babylonians swept in and invaded. Jerusalem is destroyed. The temple built by Solomon is brought down. The people were taken far away from their homes to live in Babylon. They were in a new culture with new gods. They remember the old days and they also remember how they didn’t follow God. They remember worshipping other gods. They remember treating the poor unjustly. They know they hurt God. They probably think they deserved this punishment, which of course, they did. They might have wondered if God had forgotten them and moved on.
But then they hear this passage from Jeremiah. They knew he was the old prophet. Back in the day he preached that the people repent and no one listened to him. These days, everyone wished they had.
People gather around to hear what the old prophet has to say. He tells the people that one day, they will go back home. That made people feel good. Their time in Babylon was more only for a time. Their memories of a past land that doesn’t exist anymore will no longer be memories. But there was still more Jeremiah had to say.
He tells them that soon he will make a new covenant with the people. The old covenant was the one made during their journey from Egypt to the homeland. After years of a broken relationship, God wants to get back together and start a new. God will make a new covenant, not one that’s written in stone, but written in the hearts of the people. God was going to transform the people from the inside out.
Then Jeremiah says something that just blows everyone’s mind. God will forget the sins of the people. God had not forgotten God’s people, but the sins of the people would be liked they never existed. Even when all has vanished in front of them, God is still there remaining faithful.
The people were smiling. It would be years, decades before the people could come back, but they knew that God had not forgotten them. God always wanted a relationship with the people of Israel and they were ready to renew the relationship and start over with God.
When we look at the Bible, we tend to see two sides of God. We think the Old Testament is filled with stories of an angry god ready to punish people. We think the New Testament is about a God of love, a God that gives second chances. But this passage puts a lie to that thinking. It is in God’s nature to love passionately and to give second, third and fourth chances. Like an addict that falls off the wagon again and again, God is there to transform us into something wonderful.
This passage is about the covenant God establishes with the people of Israel, so it is not our covenant. But it is a reminder that we live under a gracious covenant as well. Because of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, God doesn’t remember our sins either. God works at making us followers by working from the inside out. We remember how good God is to us and God forgets our sin, making it possible to begin anew.
On this Christ the King Sunday, we are reminded that Jesus is a king, but he is not like other kings. If we were following the Revised Common Lectionary, which we have done in recent years, today we would read the passages from the passion, those last few hours before Jesus’ death. The crucifixion is a reminder of the lengths God will go to prove God’s love for us. In the form a Jesus, a king is willing to lay aside a crown and die for the sake of others. This is the God we find here in Jeremiah, the one that is willing to start anew to forgive and forget. To restore and to heal.
Next week, many of us won’t be traveling to see Mom and Dad or any other relative. We have been urged to not travel to see our loved ones because it could cause the coronavirus to spread. In a year where we feel cut off, it is easy to feel like we have been forgotten. But what this passage reminds us is that God doesn’t forget us. Even when we feel alone, we aren’t alone and in this dark time, it can give a sense of hope.
Decades later, the people make their way back to Judah. After years of abandonment, the cities would be repopulated. It is with happiness that they realize God didn’t forget them, but God also forgot their sins. It was a new day.