Each week prior to taking communion we confess our sins, acknowledging that we are only able to approach the Lord’s table because of the mercy God has on us. Among the words in the prayer are these: “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us” (BCP, Holy Eucharist I).
I find that though I recite these words, I don’t really have a sense of God’s wrath and indignation. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever personally felt wrath or indignation. Thank goodness for today’s reading, for now I have a pretty clear picture of what those words mean.
Jeremiah has the sad chore (I mean honor) of delivering repeated messages of woe to his people, the Judeans. Their spiritual bankruptcy is rampant, and God has had enough. “’The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. For this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above be dark; for I have spoken; I have purposed; I have not relented, nor will I turn back’” (Jer. 4:27-28).
I can understand why God would be so angry with these people; after all, sacrificing children to the god Molech was a common practice. Dishonesty, adultery, indifference to the helpless, and gluttony were the norm. The imagery in these chapters is one of God unleashing incredible destruction (in the form of Babylon’s army) on his people, who have turned away from him. “As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours” (Jer. 5:19).
The trouble for me comes when I try to apply this to modern-day life. Most of us aren’t running around committing egregious acts against one another. In order to understand why we are just as condemned as the Judeans we need to have a larger understanding of who God really is.
“‘Should you not fear me?’ declares the Lord. ‘Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it’” (Jer. 5:22, NIV).
This passage makes me think of the last few chapters of the book of Job, which are an incredible catalogue of who God is and what he has done. The Lord is reminding Job of the insurmountable chasm separating humans from our Creator. Upon re-reading that scripture I was “put in my place,” so to speak.
Only through understanding (as best we can) the greatness of our Lord can we see how far away we are from him—his wrath and indignation are justified. But we can’t lose heart; there is a way out. Referring back to Jeremiah 5: “‘Yet even in those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will not destroy you completely’” (Jer. 5:18, NIV).
God knows we can’t save ourselves and so provides the solution, and the Old Testament points to it time and again: Our suffering servant, our sacrificial Lamb, God himself in the form of man. The Lord truly has mercy on us (and always will). Amen!