Scripture Passage: Jeremiah 31: 31-34 (Lent 5B)
31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Most of us know this passage well. It is telling of a new covenant, a covenant that is different from any that came before. It is not a covenant that you can see; it is a covenant that you become. The days are surely coming when that will come to be. When would that be that the new covenant will come to be? We Christians like to put on our post-Resurrection lens and read this with the view of Jesus, the Cross, and the empty tomb in our mind. Ah…we think, Jesus, Jesus is the new covenant. Jesus is the covenant that is written on our hearts. Jesus is the one. Isn’t he? So are the days surely here?
OK, be honest, have you looked around? Have you listened to the news today? BUT, “the days are surely coming!” But I’m not sure they’re here yet. I think we’re still wandering a little in the wilderness. Now don’t get me wrong. I DO believe that Jesus is an embodiment of the New Covenant, the embodiment of God’s Promise, the embodiment of The Way. And yet, the idea of this being “written on our hearts”, of this New Covenant becoming not just something to which we aspire, not just something by which we try to abide, but something that is part of us just downright eludes most of us. If it is written on our hearts, then this covenant is something that should be part of our body, our soul, our heart, our mind, our very being. The promise is certain, but it doesn’t end there and we have to be open to seeing beyond ourselves to embrace it.
In his book, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, Catholic priest and writer Fr. Richard Rohr tells of the experiences of three men who stand at the edge of the ocean, looking at the same sunset. One man saw the immense physical beauty and enjoyed the event in itself. This man…deals with what he can see, feel, touch, move, and fix. This was enough reality for him, for he had little interest in larger ideas, intuitions, or the grand scheme of things.
A second man saw the sunset. He enjoyed all the beauty that the first man did. Like all lovers of coherent thought, technology, and science, he also enjoyed his power to make sense of the universe and explain what he discovered. He thought about the cyclical rotations of planets and stars. Through imagination, intuition, and reason, he saw…even [more].
The third man saw the sunset, knowing and enjoying all that the first and the second men did. But in his ability to progress from seeing to explaining to “tasting,” he also remained in awe before an underlying mystery, coherence, and spaciousness that connected him with everything else. He [saw] the full goal of all seeing and all knowing. This was the best. It was seeing with full understanding. It was seeing beyond the obvious. It was seeing not just with his eyes, but with all that he was. It was seeing beyond himself and beyond what he was capable of seeing, beyond even what he was capable of understanding. In essence, he was open not to just the sunset but what it meant to embrace it as part of who he was.
So, then, what does it mean for a covenant to be “written on our hearts”? That means it’s part of who we are. No longer are we looking at rainbows or holding tablets. God’s vision is written on our hearts, permanently tattooed into our very being. For us followers of Christ, the new covenant, then, is not just a vision of Christ; it is rather a vision of us as we live through Christ, as we FINALLY see Jesus in the light of who Jesus is. What that tells us is that, yes, we are to be change agents, being a part of bringing God’s Kingdom into being. But more than that, we are to BE the change. The change happens in us as well as through us.
It is as if God is remaking us from the inside out. The vision of that new covenant that God has is a vision of a new us. That’s what Jesus was trying to show us, trying to lead us toward understanding. That’s what following Jesus through life’s wilderness means. But in order to do that, we need to become willing to let go—to let go of our lives, to let go of our things, to let go even of the images that we have God that get in the way of our following and being this Way of Christ. We have to clear our lenses of those things that are clouding the vision that God has for us.
Think about it. Read the words. This is not about God just tossing some words out there in the hopes that someone will be curious enough or scared enough or ready enough to pick them up. God is much more nuanced than that. Rather, God’s vision is that they are written on our hearts, permanently tattooed, part of our very being. It is as if God is remaking us from the inside out. Maybe that’s our whole problem. Maybe we’re trying to make ourselves and maybe, just maybe, we’re doing it backwards. Maybe we’re trying to do the right things and say the right things and fast and pray and live our lives with the hopes that our hearts will be made right. Maybe we’re trying so desperately to find our way out of the wilderness that we have missed what is happening to our very heart. Because while we’re wandering, while we’re trying desperately to make everything right, God is inside, with heart-wrenching fervor, remaking us from the inside out and waiting patiently for us to stop and notice. Amazingly, our hearts do not need to be made right; rather, we need to listen to what God has already written into them.
As we have said many times, wandering in this wilderness is hard. It’s full of change. But this passage points not to changes around us but changes within us. Change comes at us usually unexpectedly. Change comes when we’re not prepared for it at all. But change is indeed part of the wilderness. Change is indeed part of life. Change is the way we grow. Change softens us, like sandpaper on a piece of rough-hewed wood, making us touchable and real. Change reminds us that we need to look beyond where we’re accustomed to looking. Change makes us who God envisions we can be. Look in your heart. It’s written right there.
Deep within us all there is an amazing sanctuary of the soul,, a holy place…to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us…calling us home unto Itself. Yielding to these persuasions…utterly and completely, to the Light within, is the beginning of true life. (Thomas R. Kelly)
Grace and Peace,