The Israelites are desperate by the time God offers this new covenant. They are in exile in Babylon, in bondage, and far from home. They have no king, no temple for holy offerings, no priests. Their previous way of life no longer exists, and they lament in a foreign land.
Have you ever felt this way? As though you woke up one morning and found yourself in a different life? An unfamiliar landscape of emotions or relationships? A place you felt stuck and captive? Maybe you filed for bankruptcy or were laid off from your job or ended a marriage. Sometimes entire congregations feel this way because “the way we’ve always done it” doesn’t work anymore in the new, unfamiliar landscape.
Notice what God does not suggest in the midst of this pain: “Work harder!” or “get busy!” or “reclaim the original covenant!” God does not prescribe a program of self-improvement or a doubling down on rule-following. Instead, God makes a new covenant to restore relationship. The new covenant does not involve taking a pledge or writing on stone tablets. Instead, God, the Creator of the universe, establishes it and writes it on our hearts. God forgives, wipes the slate clean, and offers a new relationship! And this new covenant is not based on people’s ability to keep it. It’s based on God’s forgiveness and love.
God writes this covenant on our hearts today too. When we find ourselves in an unfamiliar landscape where the old ways don’t work and we feel lost, our first step is to look and listen for what God is up to. We will miss it if we try harder or get busier. Our God is always doing “a new thing”; the law within us written on our hearts requires our attentiveness.
Open our eyes and ears to what you are up to, Lord, in the midst of our stuck places and unfamiliar landscapes. Amen.
We can maintain outward appearances for only so long. At some point what is in our hearts will come to the surface. God understands this, of course, which is the reason for the promise in Jeremiah. God promises a day when God’s law will no longer be an external standard that we are trying to follow, but will be written on our hearts. In the aftermath of his sin with Bathsheba, David cries out in Psalm 51 for God’s forgiveness and a new heart. The New Testament readings begin to focus our minds toward the end of Jesus’ life. God’s transformative work comes at a cost to God through the death of his Son, who suffered in obedience but through his death was glorified.
• Read Jeremiah 31:31-34. In what areas of your life do you find yourself keeping score? How can you release that tendency?
• Read Psalm 51:1-12. What clutters your heart, making it unavailable for love?
• Read Hebrews 5:5-10. When have you fallen into the habit of faith rather than exhibiting authentic faith? What distinction do you draw between the two?
• Read John 12:20-33. How does the author’s illustration of the seed and flower help you understand Jesus’ crucifixion and death?
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