My goal in Lent is to emphasize the place of prayer, study and (Kingdom) work in service of God. My primary focus has been on prayer, I think, in large part because I have begun use of repetitive prayer in an effort to simplify and focus my prayer time, and to provide for "praying at all times" (or at least much more time). With that in mind I want to share from my own start of day prayer time.
Each day at 9:00 we pray Morning Prayer in our church. Some 3-8 people typically attend, but Wednesdays include eucharist (and Bible study at 10) so we see around 15. There is a daily cycle of readings assigned for each day and we are currently reading Jeremiah, Romans and John. The givenness of the lectionary means I am confronted by the Word rather than choosing what I want to read. I pray over the assigned texts in my prayer time. Thanking God over and over. Seeking mercy over and over. Speaking the Sacred Name, over and over. Resting in the Lord and in His word.
The words of Jeremiah 8:18 to 9:6 were very heavy and a reminder of God's nature and our need to repent. Reading these poetic utterances one sees the broader context is several chaprters (8:4-10:25). Commentaries remind us that the words of Jeremiah are prophetic words, uttered and declared to the people as a message from God. Commentators also remind us that the exact time and context of the words is unknown. As such, they lose some of their historical setting and have a more universal application. As a general word, about God and life on the planet, they are also more susceptible to our own shaping and forming. As is always the case, we hear the Other speak, but in the hearing we are at risk of transforming it to make sure we hear what we want to hear.
The first thing I noticed in this section was how hard it is to figure out who is speaking, God or Jeremiah. Thinking back on Heschel's book on the prophets I think it is fair to say, both. The relationship of prophet to God is more unified than most of us know. Prophets share in God's mind and heart (remember this is analogy). There is sense in which they are privy to the inner workings of God beyond what most of us are. Like mystics, prophets have a special experience of God. And lest we be jealous, we are reminded that what they experience is far from pleasant. Hear Jeremiah,
My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick... The broken heart of Jeremiah, of God, of Jeremiah, of God... The broken heart is an insight into the Lord's relationship to us. It is The Cross, at the heart of the Creator/Redeemer/King's relationship with His people. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, there is no Victory here. There is no Mighty God, here. There is no Awesome and Awful God here. Only the heartbroken Father rejected by His children. And yet, it is also Jeremiah's experience as he sees the doom (probably the invasion of Babylonian troops). Unlike so many "Christians" today, who revel in the thought of God's judgment falling upon the sinners, Jeremiah has no delight. He is at one in love with his people and feels their suffering as his own.
Jeremiah/God criticizes the assumption that all is well. The people are confident (God is with us, we have a king) but for no good reason (they embrace foreign idols). That is always the sin, the perceived self righteousness of the people of God. In that generation, no less than our own, people assume that all is well. "Repentance is for others," we tend to think, "God and I are good." For the hurt of my people I am hurt, I mourn , and dismay has taken hold of me" The lament of God, the lament of His prophet. Can we not hear here the words of Jesus crying out to Jerusalem (600 years later) to gather under His loving wings?
And the bad relationships between people and God are manifest between people and people. Jeremiah speaks of the desire to go off to the desert to be far from the folks. So speaks God, as well. The abandonment of Israel by God is a recurring theme in the Ancient Covenant texts. Judgment, in the Torah and later writigns, can be the visitation of some plague or invasion, but it is also the withdrawal of God. The hand of protection, once removed, leaves people prey to a godless (God-free) environment. It turns out that God may be irritating (with all that obedience and service talk) but the alternative (freed of the Law) has a dark side (free of divine order means chaos and death). Jeremiah sees (either prophetically of the pending future or actually of the literal invasion and destruction) and he shares God's view point as well.
A world of lies, slander, and misdeeds, where no one can trust anyone. A world where everyone is a supplanter (the word appears first in Genesis 27:36 where Essau accuses Jacob as a thief of the birthright). A world where each one takes care of him/herself. As Jeremiah summarizes it, "Oppression upon oppresion, deceit upon deceit, They refuse to know Me, says the Lord."
In the end, there are no good guys. All of us are part of that sad mass of deceit and malfeasance. No one has clean hands and no one has a pure heart. We are only 'relatively' better than others, but never truly good in ourselves. Lent is a time to recall that. My own awareness of sin is heightened by the encounter with God, in and through his prophet. I gain insight into Jesus through Jeremiah. Jesus is The Prophet (read that in John today!) even if He is more than a prophet (Son Incarnate). And the sorry state of our nation (yes, that is right, doom is coming) is reflective of the insolence and infidelity of Judah (though America is not the Chosen People, God still tends to work with people as a whole). Is there hope? yes, but it is found in the nature of God. A God Who mourns His people, Who suffers with His people, Who loves and cherishes His people--even if that people is unfaithful and full of all manner of sin and wickedness. And that is the mysteryof the Incarnation, Passion, Death of Jesus. It is the way God saves, at great personal cost. We are invited, in Lent, to undergo our own freely chosen passion and time of renewal in repentance. We are invited and warned to respond before it is too late. We are reminded that we are like office workers New York City's Twin Towers on the morning of September 1, 2001. We begin another day, with all manner of plans. On the horizon it is flying toward us, this pending season of destruction, and God weeps. He weeps for us. He weeps with and in and through His prophets. He weeps with and in and through His Son. And He cries out, "return to me! turn and live!" And too many of us are deaf. And the plane flies nearer and nearer.