Dec 13: A Renewed Relationship…Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:14-22
Communion is not only a celebration of a relationship of Jesus, but a renewed covenant with God. The Judaite community, while in Babylon, were given the promise of return. While God was with them in captivity, the promise was that they would have a “renewed” relationship. This did not just refer to the coming of Jesus, but the continual forgiveness and reestablishing relationship by God. God is the god of many chances and the covenant is a symbol of that grace.
A Tale of an Ancient People
The nation of Judah had turned their back on Yahweh. In Jeremiah 7 God told the prophet to go to the temple and lay out the plan. First, Yahweh gave them an option. If they repented and changed their ways, they could avert the disaster that they were facing. The Babylonians were taking the city and moving people back to their home. Captivity was happening all around the people of Jerusalem, and they would be next. God was offering them a chance to be saved from the impending doom. They only needed to change their behavior.
Second, Yahweh reminded them that originally, when they were led out of Egypt, God only wanted obedience. It was not about the laws, ordinances, and sacrifices—Yahweh just wanted them to listen to and love their God. Their God loved them, it was the least that could be expected. Finally, if they refused to listen and obey, God told the prophet that his cries, the people’s cries, and the cries of creation would be ignored. They would suffer the fate of their rejection. As they rejected Yahweh, so they would be rejected.
Jeremiah’s sermons were powerful testimonies of a God who have suffered at the hands of rebellious Israel. The nation continued to ignore the prophet. Jeremiah was beaten, thrown into a well, and had his scroll cut to pieces by a king. The last king of Judah, Zedekiah, waffled back and forth between listening to Jeremiah’s messages, and believing what his own corrupt priests claimed. They promised that God would deliver them if they stayed the course. Jeremiah warned Zedekiah that God would not do the miraculous, because the people disobeyed. In the end Zedekiah lost and trusted the wrong people.
The captivity was similar to the neighbors standing outside watching a family fight. There in the street, was the husband. He was standing next to a police car: hands cuffed, hair and clothes wrinkled, lipstick on his collar, reeling from a hangover, and smelling like whiskey, pot, and women. He stood there crying out to his house—“Please don’t do this…” “You caused me to do this…” or “Everyone makes mistakes…” His wife and children were inside the house throwing his clothes, possessions, and bedding out the window. The yard was cluttered with all of his belongings while the mother and children screamed “Get out and don’t come back.” The neighbors laughed as he was taken away in the police cruiser, yet they also went home and talked. It was a sad scene and one that brought shame on the whole family. Captivity was a punishment for a spouse who chose to abuse, mistreat, and humiliate their partner—who only treated them with love and respect. Expecting to be loved by the rebellious partner was not asking too much—was it?
Yet, even though the nation went astray and suffered divorce, Yahweh promised that there would be reconciliation. After a few nights in jail, and experiencing hard prison justice, he would learn his lesson. She would take him back, with conditions, but if he was willing she would make it work. One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 16:14-16. In those verses Yahweh claims—I will not be remembered as the God who brought you out of Egypt but the God who brought you back from the north. Yahweh was more than the God of the Exodus, the God who led people out of slavery. Yahweh was the God who forgave and gave a second chance.
Throughout Jeremiah God offered hope. In Jeremiah 31:31-34 Yahweh offered new hope to the people of Jerusalem, who lived in Babylon. First, God would return them to their home. When they were released from prison, and did their time, they could come home. They could rebuild. They could restart their family. Second, they would have a new (or renewed) covenant. This one was better than the previous covenant/relationship. Why? The first had been broken, violated, and damaged due to their sin. God’s forgiveness demanded that they remarry and renew their relationship. Even more, the earlier one was on tablets and God was going to give them enough hope and love so that their relationship would be on their hearts.
Finally, Yahweh would be their God, and they would be people devoted to their Lord. Their relationship would be reestablished and Yahweh believed (hoped) that they would be in love with their God. God, held out hope in humans. God offered a chance to sinful spouses. Yahweh believed that people could be good and faithful.
A Renewed Covenant
While some might suggest that the covenant in Jeremiah was only referring to Jesus, the reality is that “renewed” is the Hebrew meaning of the word used in Jeremiah. The issue was not that there was only one covenant. There were many, because people tend to break them. The idea of a “renewed” covenant means that God offers a chance to reconcile. This happens often.
When Jesus came to occupied Palestine, he knew that people needed to reconcile to God and each other. The return from captivity came and went, the nation experienced wars, division, corruption, and religious freedom. However, in Jesus’ time Rome was in charge and called the shots. The nation had become divided between religious leaders and common people. For the commoners, there was a need to know that they could come to God. Jesus offered this.
In Luke 22:14-22, Jesus referred to the renewed covenant at his last supper. Broken bread and cups of juice would symbolize the essentials of covenant. First, a slaughtered animal was divided to show commitment to the covenant. Second, the blood of the animal illustrated the cost of the covenant. Even more these were warnings that if the covenant was broken, so would one’s body and blood be spilled as an act of war. Jesus told the disciples that he was offering a renewed covenant. Communion is a symbol of this “renewed relationship/covenant” with God.
In this text Jesus also said, “I eagerly desire to eat this meal with you,” and then promises to eat with them again (which we read about in Acts 1). For Jesus, it was important for people to have relationship and fellowship with God. God desires this.
The Holiday/Christmas season is more than celebrating a baby, or God coming as a baby. Christmas is a reminder that God seeks relationship, God eagerly desires relationship, and God is willing to reestablish relationship. For us today, in the midst of consumerism we have a great opportunity to reestablish our relationship with God, Jesus, and the Spirit. We also have an opportunity to reconcile with others. The question for us is, do we eagerly desire this relationship—as Jesus did with his disciples.
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, it was to remind us that God forgives, seeks relationship with us, and offers a chance to experience relationship with our Creator. The coming of the Messiah is not a reminder that we give gifts, but that we have access to relationship not only with God, but all of those, like us, who are in exile.