5th Sunday in Lent
(Three MP3 tracks located below)
“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord your God is in your midst, a Mighty One who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.’”
I. The Wondrous Story
You can hear it so clearly in that music—the hope and optimism of the pioneers. Loading up the wagons, heading west, pursuing their dreams. And there is an element of “Manifest Destiny” in the Gospel. Easter is close. We can almost taste it.
And yet…we are not yet there. This is only the last Sunday in Lent before Palm Sunday and Holy Week. So the taste of hope-filled Easter, hinting at our future as friends of God in Jesus Christ, has a taste of the wilderness as well. Lent carries us from one wandering to another. Like the American pioneers, the future does look bright, but the way to it can be long.
II. Songs of the Wayfarer
When the words of Jeremiah’s prophecy came to Israel, there was no longer any sense of the joy that had accompanied them out of Egypt. There was no more sign that they were, in fact, God’s chosen, His friends. In Jeremiah’s day hope was not merely contradicted by current events, hope was shattered.
It is to such people, people like us, that Jeremiah speaks for God, saying, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” These are words brimming over with tenderness, in a day and at a time that is anything but tender.
III. Come Unto Me
God had said through Jeremiah, “[The new covenant] will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers…the covenant they broke, though I was a faithful husband to them.” So what’s new? God Himself answers, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Oh…but it’s a long, long way from the broken covenant to the new, from Sinai to Calvary. It is a long, long way from the Law written in stone to the Law flowing from hearts of faith. The way is so very long and the path is so very strange, that only One knows the way. And it is He who goes before us. That One is the heart of God made flesh, Jesus.
IV. Journey of Hope and Promise
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God tells us too, “They will all know Me from the least of them to the greatest.” “They will all know Me.” “They will all know Me.” It is one of the most intimate things God has told us.
There is a profound love in those words, as it was in the Beginning when Adam knew his wife Eve. God in Jesus Christ lets Himself be known by us. He lets us know Him intimately, in His agony at Gethsemane, in His turning the other cheek, first to Judas, then to Peter, now to us. He lets Himself be known as the God who loves from first to last, from the least to the greatest. He makes Himself known to us so fully and intimately, that we may know, fully and intimately, that in Jesus He forgives our sin and remembers our wickedness no more.
V. Song of Humility
In the days of our nation’s westward expansion, the days when these hymn tunes were born, there were many, many new beginnings which did not see a good ending. The violence of man and nature cut their journeys short….like Israel in the wilderness, like Israel in Jeremiah’s day. As we too are sorely tried in our journey through this life.
Yet, while our journey with God faces many dangers, toils and snares, we remember that all along the way God has made His heart known to us. His heart, Jesus, is with us. And whether our Lenten season this year has been an easy journey or one that has threatened to leave our bones buried in the wilderness, for us the promise here in Jeremiah 31 is a reminder. Even in the darkest periods of the journey, God’s heart, His forgiving and forgetting heart, is revealed most clearly in those darkest periods.
And with this God who has written Himself into our hearts, the journey’s end is always with us in each and every step along the way. Easter follows with us—whether the sun beats down upon us, whether the cold of life chills us to the bone, whether our days bear the weight of the cross or the glory of the promised resurrection, Easter always follows with us because God has written Himself into our hearts by His Son, His new covenant, Jesus.