Scriptures: Jeremiah 31:1-6, Matthew 28:1-10, Acts 10:34-43
I am going to challenge you to think a little outside the box this Easter Sunday. Normally, scriptures read and sermons preached focus on one of the resurrection stories of our Lord Jesus Christ. This year’s text from Matthew reflects the Matthean community’s perspective. As the Revised Common Lectionary continues to explore Matthew through the end of this liturgical year, stories and themes that were important to his community will continue to inform and, perhaps, surprise.
Today I would like to begin 500 years before the time of Christ, and see if we can glean an Easter message from the prophet Jeremiah. Let us keep in mind that from the time of Jeremiah to now is roughly 2500 years of the development of Judaism, roughly 2000 years of that the development of Christianity as separate from Judaism; with a brief overlap when we were one and the same faith. With that in mind, please pray with me.
Let us pray: Holy God, without you, we are nothing; but with you, through the Holy Spirit, all things are possible, all things can breathe anew. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.
You may recall last September I visited you and began exploring with you ramifications of Christianity Emerging again as we head into the unknown future of our next 500 year cycle of faith. In that sermon I spoke a little bit on the image of the potter’s clay painted by the prophet Jeremiah; and if I managed to keep everyone awake, I snuck in a little bit of Christian education about Jeremiah and his circumstances. Adapting some reflections from Feasting on the Word Commentary writer John Holbert, let me remind you a little bit about Jeremiah:
“Jeremiah, who was called by God as a very young man and was reluctant to take up that call, spent nearly his whole life attempting to relay … challenging and hopeful words … to a people who were undergoing the greatest crisis of their nation’s history: their decline [and] destruction [as a nation], and exile [as a people; not to mention the destruction of their Temple; which for them represented the very seat of their faith, the house where God lived.] Jeremiah witnessed [the entire destruction of Israel/Jerusalem and the Temple, and became a political prisoner of war-being exiled with his people to Babylon. In] his forty years of active ministry, [not only did he watch] the temple collapse under the merciless onslaughts of the Babylonians, [he also witnessed the sons of King Zedekiah murdered before Zedekiah’s eyes and the subsequent] blinding of their grieving father. How could one live through those events and retain the hope of a future with God; a God who seems to have turned away and left us all alone? More to the point for us this Easter Sunday,] how can you and I live in a time … riven with deep uncertainties, shot through with economic, social, and political upheavals, and still come to celebrate and find hope in the risen Christ? [Hopefully], Jeremiah has something to teach us [for our context today]. [Italics added] 
The first thing we learn is that Jeremiah, as reluctant as he was to take up his role for God, did it, and he did it faithfully, if under duress and struggle, for 40 some years through the death of their nation. He followed the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit and prophesied to his people. He had a very personal encounter with God, which caused him to drop everything and follow God’s will, no matter what.
In that respect, Jeremiah is not unlike the first disciples; even, and perhaps especially, the women followers we hear so little about yet who play such an important role in our Gospel story today. They too had a very personal encounter with God. If you remember from Advent, Matthew’s first chapter records the name given for Jesus as Emmanuel, God-with-us. God-with-us; is it any wonder that just experiencing Jesus in the flesh was enough to change the course of a life to one of a follower? Can you imagine what that must have been like? Meeting Jesus must have been like looking into the deepest well of love; meeting Jesus face to face must have been an encounter like no other-his eyes looking so deeply into yours that he reached directly into the depths of your soul, loving you so completely that in one look your life became forever changed-touched by that one defining moment. Perhaps some of you can relate to that through an experience from your life. Perhaps some of us have had it and have forgotten. Perhaps some of us are still waiting.
Now, put yourself back in Babylon for a moment. Can you imagine what the people of Israel must have felt? They have been utterly destroyed as a nation; their Temple, the house where God lives has been destroyed, and they are aliens living in Babylon. That is utter desolation, is it not? Perhaps you can think of a time in life when you have felt similarly bereft-when it seemed like God was dead and life was loveless. Times such as the death of a loved one; an experience of your home being taken away or destroyed; the death of a child. Times such as a breach of relationship between two people, either family members or best friends- that becomes a long dry place of silence and brokenness in both your hearts. Perhaps some are in the midst of such wilderness even now. Whatever it was, or is, life felt – or feels – dead.
This is the kind of feeling that Jeremiah’s people were living everyday in Babylon. But, Jeremiah has a word from God to say into this desolation. Jeremiah says that God is not dead. For us this Easter, this is a poignant reminder. John Holbert writes, “Easter is about the absurd announcement that there is no death so dead that God cannot find life in it.”  He goes on to remind us,
“Only a fool would speak now of the God of all Israel. Only a fool would proclaim, in the face of the death of all expectations, all hopes and dreams, that “we shall be God’s people.” [Similarly,] Only a fool would proclaim the resurrection of the Christ in a world where 2 billion live on $2 a day, where militarism and war sap the men and women of countless nations, where money spent on killing is drained from so many who yearn for living” [italics added]. 
What can Jeremiah say that relates to our Easter existence today? He proclaims, just as the women are asked to proclaim to the disciples, there is a new thing happening, so new it has never happened before. Again in the words of John Holbert,
“It is in our wildernesses that we most clearly find the grace of God. Why? Because, [as Jeremiah proclaims,] the Easter God announces to us, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (v. 3). Easter is not about the resuscitation of a corpse; it is about the God who has loved us with an everlasting love all of our days” [italics added]. 
That is what we celebrate today. That we, even we, who have survived – and yet survive – the dying moments of our lives, we have been given this foretaste, this holy message of God’s love from the one who lived through death-his own death, countless other deaths, and ours.
May the indwelling of the Holy Spirit teach us more of the One who lived, died, and rose again for use, even Him who is the Christ-that we might live in hope. Amen? May it be so.
 Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.