Memory and Promise

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The annual meeting today reminds us that the clocks turn regardless of all that has happened in the past year. We do certain things at the same time every year. Anniversaries are like that. Every year, we will celebrate birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and occasions that call us to pause, and remember.

Remember, what happened a year ago. Two years ago. Ten years ago. Anniversaries signify, in the passage of time, the truth that our lives and the world has changed and will continue to do so. 

The prophet Jeremiah is born right into the middle of major changes in the lives of the ancient Israelites. Throughout Jeremiah’s life, much of the Middle East was at war. The situation in which Jeremiah spoke God’s messages was one of disaster and uncertainty. Those were not happy times. Observing anniversaries at that time would have been difficult events.

The passage from Jeremiah given to us this fifth Sunday in Lent in 2021 is nevertheless a word of hope. How so? What distinguishes, in our time, a posture of faith? What distinguishes, in our time, a people of faith? Because everyone will confess the many ways the pandemic has challenged our ways of life in the past year. But what sets the person of faith apart?

Two qualities of the spirit emerge from Jeremiah’s words: Memory and Promise. First, Jeremiah appeals to the people, to remember. Remember what God did to save God’s people: How God brought the people out of slavery in Egypt. How it was to try following the letter of God’s law in the wilderness and entering the Promised Land. How God led the people “by the hand” through challenging times in the past.

Some say that having faith is like looking in the rear view mirror when driving. People of faith today will pause to remember the gifts of the past. People of faith are grounded in the memory of good and bad times. They will hold and honour what has happened, and where they have been.

They understand that they are not just individuals living an episodic, disconnected experience today; rather people of faith are part of something larger. They are connected to a long lineage and history that continues to bear fruit, and bring value and meaning to their existence today. Even in the tough times. Memory.

The prophet also gives his words in the future tense. God will accomplish good things some day. “I will make a new covenant …”; “I will write my law on their hearts; “I will be their God …”; “I will forgive their sins …” 

The people of God trust the promises of God. Our faith looks up to Thee. We turn towards a future we cannot yet grasp. It’s just beyond our reach, on the horizon of our vision. Despite the difficulties we face, we continue to strive in the direction of the promise. We live and lean into the good that surely awaits.

The promise is true. People of faith know this. Not with their heads. Not with the calculating mind. But with their hearts. And hearts know love. The promise of God is given out of love, with love and for love. That’s why we can believe in the promise.

We hold our memories, in loving regard. We look to the future of God’s promise knowing that God looks past our failure, our sin, our fear and anxiety. God looks upon our hearts of love.

And because our memories and promises are held in hearts of love, we can live this moment. Because our past and our future have love as their genesis and final goal, we can rest inbetween memory and promise. We can be present and stay in touch with our actual situation and ourselves now, just as things are, and just as we are. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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