Resurrection In Exile
The prophet Jeremiah was not a popular man. His prophesy was one of defeat; the armies of Babylon, which had been overtaking the kingdoms surrounding Israel, were encroaching. Many prophets were preaching God’s deliverance from the coming war and an impending peace and prosperity. Jeremiah called them liars, dangerous to the people of God. The only way out, he said, is through.
His witness was to a God who does not abandon, but to a God who goes with us into uncertainty, into chaos and confusion, into fear and trembling, even into the grave. The people of God are going into exile; do not let anyone convince you otherwise. And in exile, we will still be the people of God. This is possibly the most radical part of monotheism: our God, and our belovedness by God, can never be undone. Times of great suffering and trial are times when we must cling closely to our trust in the power of Love and the possibility of transforming grace. This is the meaning of Easter; the only way out is through.
Just past halfway through the Book of Jeremiah (ch. 29), a word to the people is given:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare... For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you My promise and bring you back to this place. For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
This prophetic word was for the Israelites headed into exile thousands of years ago, and is for us today, who are in exile during these days of quarantine. We will commemorate the murder, burial, and resurrection of God’s Anointed One in exile. We will celebrate and mourn and learn and connect, in exile. We will be people out of place for much time to come. And God will be with us. This is not life interrupted; this is life, which is always being interrupted and re-directed and transformed. Perhaps God has something powerful to teach us in exile. The only way to know is to listen; the only way out is through.
Now is the time for us, as people of faith, to admit our powerlessness over the reality of exile. Jeremiah was unambiguous in his prophetic speech, both about the coming difficulty AND the companionship of God in the midst of it all. In accepting our powerlessness, each of us can find opportunities to deepen our faith and expand our service in new ways.
"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
As we grieve the loss of what we have left behind, and as we contemplate the mystery of what we will return to, let us be present to the possibilities of abundant life that can be found in exile. The only way out is through.
In Peace, and with Love, Pastor Andrew