Rejoicing in the Lord’s Steadfast Love
Easter 4 – Jubilate – Evening Prayer (In support of Issues, Etc. after its cancellation.)
Lamentations 3:22-33 & 1 Peter 11-20
13 April 2008
What a tragedy! What a travesty! It was a most sorrowful day for God’s faithful people. It was a massive blow to the collective gut of God’s faithful people and even some on the outside. You could hear God’s faithful saying, “My groans are many, and my heart is faint” (Lam. 1:22). I’m sure some even said, “My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns” (Lam. 2:11). Of course, I’m talking about the destruction of God’s holy city, Jerusalem. (What did you think I was talking about? :-)
You see, I’m trusting that we’ve all come to hear God’s message on this evening of Jubilate—this day of Easter rejoicing, this day of sorrow being turned into joy. So the first reading we heard this evening transports us to the rubble of Jerusalem, just after God Himself destroyed it by means of His own enemies. This evening we get to pull up a fallen stone from the rubble and sit with Jeremiah as he laments the destruction caused by faithlessness to God. But a glimmer of hope—a bright ray of joy—does also peak through the gloom.
As Jeremiah surveys the smoking rubble and gruesome carnage of a sacked Jerusalem, he has no problem lamenting the horrific scene. But it’s quite an orderly and well thought out sort of grief. Each verse of chapter one begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Same thing in chapter two. No exploding, rambling, raving, maniacal sorrow! Jeremiah shows us how to sorrow and lament in alphabetical order, grappling with our sorrow with purpose and with completeness. Then we come to chapter 3. The alphabetical order of his lament intensifies. Each verse has three lines and each group of three lines begins with a successive Hebrew letter. More intense sorrow, and yet Jeremiah is building up to something even more intense.
Then we come to our first reading. It’s as if we’ve labored and lamented as we’ve hiked up the steep hill of our sorrow. As we approach the top of the hill, our muscles ache and burn, but, somehow, we pick up the pace. A certain relief kicks in. It’s what Jeremiah says just before the verses we heard: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” (3:21).
What does the prophet urge us to call to mind? “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end.” Sure, many things cease and come to an end. Some things cease when we don’t want them to, and other things continue when we’d rather they just come to a quick end. [C'est la vie]! What do you expect in a fallen, broken, sin-infected world? But the steadfast love of our Lord never ceases. That’s the only sure thing to hold on to. His mercies never come to an end. They are the only certain things to keep us going in the midst of sorrows. And His mercies in Christ Jesus “are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
Our brief respite atop our hill of sorrow draws our attention away from ourselves, away from the mess around us, away from the wrongs we’ve received and the ones we’ve meted out, whoever we are. Prophet Jeremiah leads us to say, “‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’” Did you catch that? Our hope is not in getting even, or in unearthing institutional dirt. Our hope is not in some form of synodical leadership, whether securing another election victory or in changing administrations. Remember what the psalmist says: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” (Ps. 146:3-4). Our hope is not even in a certain radio show, its host, its producer, its restoration, or its resurrection.
No, our hope is solely and completely in our crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ. “The LORD is my portion,” we learn to say—in all of life and through all of life. You see, “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him.” After all, He is the One who climbed the greatest hill of sorrow. He is the One who found relief for us only in sacrificing Himself for us. He is the One whose death shows steadfast love. He is the One whose resurrection delivers never-ending mercies.
So, “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” Let the laments and the sorrows come. We wait quietly for the Lord’s rescue and deliverance. You see, He sat alone in silence when our sin, our sorrow, and our death were laid on Him. When He put His mouth in the dust of our sin-wrecked lives and our hopes dashed by deadly, demonic deeds, He proved that we may have hope—hope in His forgiveness, hope in His life, hope in His salvation. He gave His cheek to the one who strikes; He endured the insults. And why? To show His unique, all-sufficient compassion “according to the abundance of His steadfast love.”
That’s the focal point of Jeremiah’s lament. Then he continues his alphabet-organized lamenting through chapters 3, 4 and 5. The Lord’s love and mercies sustain him to grapple with the ongoing reality of sin and sorrow. But in the end, as he still sits amid the rubble of fallen Jerusalem, Jeremiah now prays: “Restore us to Yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old” (5:21). With the Lord’s steadfast love and mercies, with His salvation and compassion, we can wend our way down the hill of our sorrows. Yes, our muscles still ache and burn. Yes, we reenter the carnage and rubble of our broken world and our dashed hopes. But we do so with the joy of our Lord’s cross-won forgiveness. We do so with His life that bursts forth from the empty tomb. Our Lord Jesus promises to restore and renew—in His way, in His time, and for our eternal good.
So just how do we wend our way through the rubble of this world? Just how do we rejoice with Easter joy in the midst of our sorrows? St. Peter helps us in our second reading. It’s a series of practical exhortations for us who are made alive by the steadfast love and mercies of Christ. “Abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” The real war is not against other people, parties, or factions within Christ’s Church, or even in this man-made corporation called “synod.” No, the true battle is against what lies inside each one of us—the sin and death that infect us from within. If we would do more battle in that arena, then we wouldn’t have to worry as much about the “successism” of being in power or attaining it, then we wouldn’t have to resort to the tactics of secrecy and subversion with our fellow Christians.
St. Peter continues: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable.” Why bother with what unbelievers think? “That they see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” How can they know there’s new life in Christ, if we don’t proclaim it in our deeds as well as our fine words?
And another exhortation: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” Yes, we can even endure tyrannical leaders—both outside and inside the Church—because we have Christ and His steadfast love and mercies. “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
Then we hear the heart of Peter’s exhortations: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” Just as our Lord Jesus Christ freely served us by absorbing our and the world’s evil, we get to do the very same thing. No, not covering it up—least of all the evil that dwells within each one of us—but exposing it to our Lord’s cross-won compassions and resurrection mercies.
And, finally, St. Peter speaks to house-slaves who do the bidding of their master. Since Christ our Lord is the Master of His Church, we all are nothing but house-slaves, serving at His discretion, called to do His bidding. So, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the unjust.” It doesn’t matter if our position is high or low or somewhere in between—we are called to be servants. Let all institutional bureaucracy and every thought and motivation of “get-even-with-‘em-ism” be crucified and buried. Let the new life of serving Master Jesus rise with all of its simple humility and ongoing charity. Then we can learn and live as Peter reminds us: “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”
Yes, it’s radical. It’s also far too uncommon. But it is the fruit of our Lord’s steadfast love. It is the rejoicing that comes out of sorrow. As our Lord Himself says: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn. 16:22). Amen.