by Rev. Remy Remmers
This week’s first lesson, Jeremiah 31-4-14, is one of my favorite passages. It is a salvation oracle in the midst of the trauma of exile. The people of Israel have experienced traumatic event after traumatic event. They are living in trauma trying to process what has happened to them, the role of God, and if salvation is possible. Jeremiah is the longest book in the bible and covers many different traumatic events that happened to the people of Israel. In the Book of Consolation (Jeremiah 30-31), this lectionary reading shows the impact of their trauma while trying to hope together as a community. Just a quick note before we begin: if you look in other translations for verse 8 you will see a different word than what the CEB has for disabled; that word is considered a slur by many. You should substitute in the word disabled. Also, you should look at the hymns for the slur; it is frequently used because it rhymes with name. Remember, it is always a good time to talk about disabilities and ableism in your context.
To give some brief historical context: at this time, the northern kingdom has been conquered. The land of Israel had also been conquered with the capital city Jerusalem overthrown and raided. Officials had been captured; some executed publicly and others taken into exile to unknown futures. The people of Israel individually and communally would be living with trauma. They experienced back-to-back reversals of fortune that left them eventually in exile. This would impact any oracles composed during this time. Trauma changes how people and communities think and express themselves. The Book of Consolation is this break in the book of Jeremiah that Jeremiah brings in a word of hope from God. “The oracles that follow will develop that intention in some detail, with eloquence, hope, and sensitivity to the pain that the people have experienced.” The people cannot experience hope unless they feel like their pain is being honored. Even when their pain is being honored, hope is difficult. The book of Consolation works within this narrative, piecing together the community with their part in God’s salvation. This hope must exist within the frame of the grief of the past. “Before hope can speak, survivors of disaster have to find language to tell of it; they have to grieve accumulations of loss and begin to place the catastrophe into larger frames of meaning.” The Book of Consolation is an attempt to find this language. It is centered in the language of their traditions and in their grief.
One of the ways that Jeremiah does that is through his word choice. In verse 7 the verb ‘shouts’ also appears in Lamentations as cries of need. This choice in word deeply acknowledges the emotional space that the people in exile inhabit. This is juxtaposed with gladness. These two are held deeply in tension which is what allows this phrase to work. Telling the people of Israel that their emotional space is valued and welcome at the start of this oracle is a move that works well. Gladness will come, but Jeremiah honors the cries of need that he hears. This makes this oracle more manageable and meaningful for the people of Israel.
Further, Jeremiah meets the people in trauma by acknowledging the reality of their condition. They cannot go back to who they were before, so God will bring them back as who they are now. “The survivors returning to Zion will form a procession of the forgotten, the disabled and the vulnerable.” During the times of raids and exile some undoubtedly have become disabled. Often as a demonstration of strength and dominance over a conquered nation people (especially high ranking) will be publicly deformed or blinded. While these words could be metaphoric, historically there are more people that are blind or have physical impairments as a result of being conquered. This metaphor could have come from the reality that people were more aware of their conquered status because of these physical signs. They return as a great company and not as an army.
This return to Zion is phrased like a procession. They will be gathered from their various points of exile and be led back into Zion. This Oracle ties together their trauma and a sense of liturgy. “Flowing from their worshiping life will come a new society of economic and spiritual justice… Those usually judged least suitable for leadership – the feeble and the vulnerable, the lowly and the wounded – will become the center of new life.” By guiding them in their trauma back to Zion, God declares who is valued in this new community, and who they should be depending on. This procession reminds the community how to live into the covenant by reminding them who needs protection in their community. God gives them positions of leadership in this renewal of the kingdom of God.
This Oracle of Salvation is in the midst of trauma in how it was composed, and how the people of Israel received it. The oracle met them at the emotional space that they were at because of their trauma. Metaphors that held up the need for the dependence of God were lifted up because none of them felt like their current situation was manageable. They were not brought back as a military but in a processional led and cared for by God. In this procession new life and new hope can begin. As we dream of returning to churches, what will we have learned from this pandemic? Everything should not and can not ‘go back to normal.’ There is so much grief and loss throughout the country. How are you acknowledging that in your space? Does the way you hold hope for the future leave room for grief?
 The New Interpreter's Bible: General Articles & Introduction, Commentary, & Reflections for Each Book of the Bible, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994.,805
 O'Connor, Kathleen M. Jeremiah: Pain and Promise. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011., 103
 Keown, Gerald Lynwood., Pamela J. Scalise, and Thomas G. Smothers. Jeremiah 26-52. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1995.
 O'Connor, Kathleen M. Jeremiah: Pain and Promise. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011., 106
 See Jeremiah 52:11 for an example
 O'Connor, Kathleen M. Jeremiah: Pain and Promise. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011., 105
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