IN SPITE OF EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
A Communion Meditation by Thomas R. McKibbens
December 2, 2018
By the world’s calculations this worship that we enjoy week after week isn’t worth much. We produce no marketable goods here. We provide no services in this room that society would consider commercially valuable. Instead, we come here every week to encounter the divine. We come because we sense that the world in general and our world in particular is not what we want it to be, and we come hoping to get in touch with that great mind of the universe that we call God.
We come together because Jesus, in whose name we meet, is known as the Prince of Peace, and there are few things we need more than peace. In a nation that endures daily violence in the form of shootings or other tragedies, we come here to study and learn peace. In a culture in which the depiction of violence is big business, we long for a place of peace.
We also come here to be tutored in the way of simple kindness. The quotation is variously attributed to Plato or to a list of other possible sources, but the advice is nevertheless just as important: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This is a place where values such as kindness, forgiveness, and generosity are nurtured.
This is also a place of hope. We come here when one among us passes from this world to the next. We tenderly lift that person’s life to God and send that person home…free of pain, beyond death, to gather on a farther shore and in greater light with the saints who have gone before us. This is an act of hope.
We also come here to make the most sacred promises of life. “To love and to cherish till death do us part” is a vow filled with hope, for it does not always work out that way. But we come here in this sacred place to make such promises.
And each Sunday as we worship, we come with a long list of hopes: for healing and wholeness, for guidance, for help in making decisions, for strength to meet daily challenges, for the healing of divisions, for the future of the world. This is a place where hope is planted and nurtured and grows.
We hold up before us a world that is not yet: a world with its bigotries and fears, its divisions and hatreds, all passed away and something new is taking its place. When we pray each Sunday that thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are holding before us something new that has been called “the Beloved Community,” or “God’s peaceable kingdom.” Whatever we call it, the church is called to live toward that vision, to lean into that reality, to live into that hope.
On the first Sunday of Advent we highlight that hope, not just with the single candle of hope on the Advent Wreath, but also in the scripture we read. Today we heard an ancient text of hope from the prophet Jeremiah, words that were written when all hope seemed to be lost. An overpowering army of Babylon was advancing on the city of Jerusalem like a mighty tsunami. Already they were invading the land with efficient brutality although they had not yet reached the city. The worst nightmare of the people in Jerusalem had not yet happened, but it was inevitable. Any reasonable person could see that Jerusalem was doomed. It was a time of impending catastrophe.
Yet in spite of all evidence to the contrary, Jeremiah speaks words of hope! …the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made…. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. At a time when everyone could see that all was lost, Jeremiah offers a word of hope.
Historically, of course, Christians have seen these words as a prophesy about the coming of a Messiah, not just to save Jerusalem, but to save the world. This Messiah will execute justice and righteousness in the land. This is the one we wait for in this Advent season, for while there are no great armies moving toward us, there are threats of other kinds that eat up our hope: the loss of optimism, the loss of security, the loss of loved ones, the loss of health. Jeremiah’s word was a leap of faith that the God who had been faithful in the past would be faithful in the future, that God would counteract all the life-sapping, despair-inducing evidence to the contrary.
This is precisely what Jesus was doing in the upper room when he spoke with his disciples: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me, he told them. One account of the Lord’s Supper begins with this phrase: When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and his apostles with him. “When the hour came”—what hour was that? I suppose it was the hour when they were most hopeless. All the power of the Roman Empire seemed to be arrayed against them. The only future they could see was the cross, and that was no future at all.
It was when all the evidence seemed to contradict hope that Jesus gave them the bread and wine, and he told them that they would forever be tangible reminders of a hope that they could not see at the time. They would understand later, but for now, he said, Take, eat, this is my body given for you…this is my blood, shed for you. This, in other words, is hope when all evidence points toward the contrary.
So we begin this Advent season around this table of hope, gathered in this place of hope, to speak words of hope, to take in hope as we swallow the bread and wine. Here is what I propose: I’ll hope for you if you will hope for me. We will hope for each other, and we will hope for the world. This will be a place of prayer not only for ourselves and for each other, but also for the world.
Hope is the product we produce in this sacred space. We hold God in one hand and the world in the other, and we will not let go of hope.
We pray and we work for people without enough to eat, for there is no place the love of God cannot go.
We pray and we work for those without shelter and heat, for there is no place that the love of God cannot go.
We pray for institutions and businesses in distress and their employees, for there is no place the love of God cannot go.
We pray and we work for the sick and the wounded, for there is no place that the love of God cannot go.
We pray and we work for people and nations caught in the hell and insanity of war, for there is no place the love of God cannot go.
We pray and we work for the cure of terrible diseases such as Parkinson’s and cancer and ALS, for there is no place the love of God cannot go.
We pray and we work for the lonely, the abused, the confused, those laughed at and those forgotten, even ourselves, for there is no place the love of God cannot go.
So come, O God, come now, for in such a time as this, only You will do.