Eucharist – 3rd Sunday after Trinity – 28th June
Did you notice, when you had your first look at the readings, something rather strange going on? I’m talking Old Testament, here, so you might not have heard it with your ears, yet: but the first word spoken, by the famously gloomy prophet Jeremiah, is (surprisingly) “Amen”. Amen! what a way to start a speech! “Amen” (as you know) means “so be it” – “ok ,fine” – “I agree” – something to show assent in what has just gone before, and so an ending, not a beginning. So, what was it? Well, Jeremiah has been listening to another prophet, Hananiah, who has been predicting that (despite appearances) peace will soon come, that the exiles in Babylon will return to the Promised Land, and everything will be ALL RIGHT, honest. Jeremiah says “Amen” to that, I think, because he’d like it, too, if only it could be – except he knows better. He reminds Hananiah and his chums that earlier prophets have foreseen wars, famine, and pestilence because it’s their job to give warnings, not reassurance: and that the only way to find out if these others are really speaking God’s truth is to wait and see if it happens: otherwise God would prevent it. So “Amen” indeed: but don’t count your chickens: be careful. There’s a very fine line between hope and wishful-thinking, and you’re not often your own best judge.
This is perhaps a situation we find ourselves in, too, just at the moment: what we might call “if only….”. “If only” we could get back into church, and pray properly again – as the exiles longed to, cut off from Jerusalem: “if only” we could meet our families and friends again, and hug like we used to: “if only” all these clever scientists and politicians could wave a magic wand, and make it all (whatever it is) just go away. For Jeremiah to say “Amen” he had to have faith, not just pious hopes. He knows God’s good purpose for his people will take work to bring about: and that such work will be costly. Times will change – just wait and see! – but time never, ever, goes back. We’d all like to hear good news: but the point is not just that it’s good, but that it’s new: and has to be re-newed every so often.
But think on. Jeremiah’s first word, today, “Amen”, is just what we say when our prayers end. The first and the last: beginning and endings: and always in acceptance of whatever he wills to be done. When, after years and years of waiting, God’s people saw their Saviour, they could not but rejoice. For a little while, wild hopes took hold, that (for example) neither Christ nor anyone else need face death, ever again. Maybe. Wishful thinking. If only. What they actually sawwas Christ on the Cross, and all things come to naught, as if God wasn’t really God, after all, and they’d been played for fools, all along. So they mourn, big time: the grief of generations, both long gone, and yet to come. Yet, when they meet to talk and remember, as mourners do, a change begins to happen. This time, they meet not for mutual support or relief, to feel better, but in simple obedience to his last word and be better. Lamentation (like Jeremiah’s) is now, as it was in the beginning, and ever shall be: for within it is also “AMEN”.