Posts Tagged 'Jeremiah 31:31-34'

For Dec. 15, 2013: A Service of Advent Lessons and Carols

First Reading            Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-25: God creates man and woman to live in obedience to God in the Garden of Eden.

Second Reading            Genesis 3:1-15: Adam and Eve rebel against God and are cast out of the Garden of Eden.

Third Reading            Isaiah 40:1-11: God comforts God’s people and calls on them to prepare for redemption.

Fourth Reading            Jeremiah 31:31-34: A new covenant is promised which will be written in our hearts

Fifth Reading            Zechariah 9:9-10: The humility of Jerusalem’s King is foretold.

Sixth Reading            Haggai 2:6-9: The Lord will restore the splendor of the house of David.

Seventh Reading            Isaiah 65:17-25: God promises a new heaven and a new earth.

Eighth Reading            Luke 1:26-38: The Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will bear the Son of the Most High.

The Gospel            John 1:1-14: The Word was made flesh and we have seen his glory.

 

About the Service of Advent Lessons and Carols

The format of this Sunday’s service dates back to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols devised by Edward White Benson, then Bishop of Truro in southern England, for Christmas Eve 1880. In 1918, shortly after the fighting in World War I ended, this order of service was adapted for use at King’s College, Cambridge UK, by the Dean of the college chapel, Eric Milner-White. With the revisions that Milner-White made in 1919, this is the service that is broadcast every year by the BBC.

In 1934, Milner-White devised a similar service for Advent: its purpose, he said, was “not to celebrate Christmas”—as the Christmas Eve service does—“but to expect it.” It is in that spirit that we offer today’s lessons and carols.

The nine short lessons or readings are chosen to show the story of salvation unfolding. God’s creation of humanity in the first reading from Genesis is followed by the fall into disobedience in the second. The remaining readings, except for the last two, come from Israel’s dark time during and after the destruction of the Temple and the deportation to Babylon. Isaiah foresees comfort and return from exile for God’s people, in words that inspired much of the first part of Georg Friedrich Handel’s masterful Messiah; Jeremiah announces the new covenant, not between God and the whole people but between God and each human soul; Zechariah foresees a King who combines the power to end war with the humility to ride a donkey; Haggai foresees the restoration of the house of David and of the temple to which all people will come in worship; Isaiah returns to prophesy a world order of unimaginable peace and harmony under God. The eighth lesson is Luke’s account of the  invitation to Mary to become the mother of God and of her astonished but ultimately obedient response. The ninth lesson, from the beginning of the gospel of John, tells of Jesus as Word, God, Light—and, wonder of wonders, flesh like us.

“For the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.” Thanks be to God!

For March 25, 2012: 5 Lent, Year B

The Reading            Jeremiah 31:31-34

The “weeping prophet” Jeremiah foretold the destruction of Jerusalem in the sixth century BC on account of God’s people being unfaithful. Amid the ruins, today’s reading announces hope and a new covenant: God will write God’s law on the people’s hearts, so that we do not forget God—and God will forget our sin.

The Epistle            Hebrews 5:5-10

The epistle to the Hebrews, written no later than 96 AD, is less a letter than it is a treatise of Christology—the study of Jesus—in terms of Jewish thought. The writer compares the priesthood of Jesus to that of Melchizedek, who blessed Abram in Genesis 14. Both priesthoods are without beginning or end, but Jesus’ priesthood is superior: he is fully human, fully God, and fully obedient to God.

Further thoughts

The approach of the end of Lent always brings to mind one of my favorite poems of the late 20th century, Peter Meinke’s “Liquid Paper”. The opening lines liken correcting fluid—Liquid Paper™ or Wite-Out™—to a parson that pardons sins, then to a memory-blotter. The poem continues, “If I were God, / I’d authorize Celestial Liquid Paper / every seven years to whiten our mistakes:”

we should be sorry and live with what we’ve done
but seven years is long enough and all of us

deserve a visit now and then
to the house where we were born
before everything got written so far wrong.

Similar imagery of God forgetting his people’s sins or blotting them out appears in the readings from Jeremiah and Psalm 51. The point in both readings, as in Meinke’s poem, is surely not that our sins stop existing or that we get out of doing anything about them. In fact, the old 1928 Book of Common Prayer identifies with clinical precision our problem with what it calls “these our misdoings”:

The remembrance of them is grievous unto us;
The burden of them is intolerable.

It is remarkable how little misdoing is required to convince a human being that There Is No Help for her and she has no business admitting in decent company how much help she needs—or, for that matter, even presuming to appear in decent company. One can try to shed that burden on her own, but most of us fail utterly.

Jesus, being human, knows the weight of that burden. It is that intolerable burden that each of us bears, multiplied by all the souls on this beautiful and yet blased planet, that hangs with him and on him on the cross.  Our part now is to keep using the means of grace—the bread and wine, the fellowship, the admitting of our sin—and to extend them to each other by all means possible.


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