It is Wednesday evening, and in three days we will celebrate the Palm Sunday (vigil) Liturgy which marks the beginning of Holy Week. Today I find myself looking at what looms ahead. The lenten journey heats up and we make the final turn to Easter. For liturgical types, those Christians who live their faith in a more sacramental form, these are in truth the greatest days to be alive.
The assigned readings today continue the process of heightening our awareness of what Jesus meant in His day (and what He means today) by continuing to draw on the writings of Jeremiah. As I have said before, Jeremiah's time is eerily similar to Jesus' own day. Jerusalem and her temple was destroyed the first time with Jeremiah, the second time after Jesus. In addition, Jesus quotes from Jeremiah at key places in His ministry (the fishers of men line, for example, as well as the more familiar complaint that the temple is a den of thieves). Jeremiah 23 gives God's promise, "I will raise up shepherds over them...I will raise up for David a righteous branch," something which Jesus alluded to in today's Gospel from John 10 (I am the Good Shepherd). So today's bitter words from Jeremiah 25 were tough medicine in deed.
God promises that the Babylonians will conquer His people. There will be a season of severe punishment. Jeremiah declares that he has, for twenty three years, persistently spoken God's word; that God has persistently sent His messengers the prophets to call His people back, but the word has gone unheeded. "Turn from your evil ways and wicked doings" calls the Lord through his (frustrated) servant. Unfortunately, the people are intent on provoking God to anger and so they are told "I will utterly destroy them, and make of them an object of horror and of hissing, and an everlasting disgrace." There will be no sound of mirth or gladness....., well, it goes on and on and none of it is appealing.
Jeremiah's harsh judgment brought him personal turmoil and public opposition. Like Jesus, Who longed to save His people from the folly of their way, Jeremiah also had a heart for God's people.
Holy Week, the remembrance of the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and the final abandonment of Jesus are all meditations on this great mystery. The mystery of a Creator God Who becomes a human, to share in our misery & ministry. The mystery of great evil, an execution, a torturous execution, of an innocent man (The Innocent Man) which is incorporated into the Divine Man and made one with God. The mystery of sadness and tears, and faith in the the crucified, faith in spite of the tomb, faith in the face of untold horrors.
Somehow grace and judgment, mercy and wrath are all wrapped together. Jeremiah reminds us of the bitter taste of wrath, the horrors of spending one day too many in the "land of disobedience." Like Adam and Eve writ large, the exile is the story of people who tell God, "I will do it my way," giving up all claim to their place in the world. Like the prodigal son, it is the exile of a fool who squanders everything he has been given, even his position in the Father's household and lives in a far off land.
Holy Week expresses how God consumes this rejection, consumes it in the Body of Christ, embraces it all. That is the cross. That is the death of Jesus. That is the exile redeemed. It is a mystery to be experienced in story and liturgy, too deep for explanation. It is better suited for proclamation. And we are making the turn into the time of proclamation and celebration. It is time to wake up and focus your prayer and study. The tiem grows very short.