I learned something new this week about Jeremiah 31: this is the only Old Testament passage where the word “new” modifies the word covenant. But what exactly is new about this covenant is disputed.
The book of Jeremiah is a hard text. Called to proclaim the coming destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah’s ministry spanned 5 kingships prior to Babylon’s take over of Jerusalem. Jeremiah’s traditionally known as the author of Lamentations, a book full of sadness due to the loss of the city but hopeful that the community will survive. Jeremiah most likely spent the last years of his life in Egypt, away from those in Babylon but still trying to turn the people back to God.
This first reading is about restoration. The new covenant God will bring is entirely earthy. Jerusalem will be rebuilt and the land of Israel will be repopulated. Throughout the Old Testament, land (and the promise of the land) is central to what God is doing. Restoration always has a very earthy feel. God isn’t in the business of drawing the Chosen people away from the earth; God is busy restoring people to it.
And the center of this restoration is grounded in God’s promises. This new covenant isn’t replacing the prior ones that we’ve heard this Lent (the promise to not destroy the world with a flood, the promise of the Ten Commandments, etc). This new covenant is fulfilling the eternal promises of God. God promises to walk with God’s people, to get into the earthy lives we live, and help us grow into the people we are called to be.
At the Lord’s table, we hear words of a new covenant. When we share in Jesus’ body and blood, we’re reminded that God is active in our lives, nourishing us physically and spirituality, so that God’s eternal promise is manifested in our lives. God’s new covenant is rooted in forgiveness. Jeremiah vision of what the future will hold is still be actualized now. We’re not there yet. But with God’s love, grace, and Jesus’ presence, we are transformed, reflecting tomorrow’s future in our lives today.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 3/22/2015.