When I was a student and learning about the Old Testament, I remember our tutor (Fr Nicholas Turner) saying that he found Jeremiah such an intense figure that he almost found it impossible to teach people about him: we were encouraged simply to try and experience the raw emotion, and indeed pain, by reading the text for ourselves – initially without commentaries and notes.
The intensity is clear in today’s first reading at Mass (14:17-22): ‘Tears flood my eyes, night and day, unceasingly, since a crushing blow falls on the daughter of my people…’ Jeremiah is active when the city of Jerusalem and the Temple are destroyed. The community seems to be coming to an end. It’s a bad sign if clergy have to earn their living working in the fields.
Amidst a lot of uncertainty at the moment about holiday plans – and I realise some of you are having to cancel trips to Spain or plan for quarantine when you get back – we need to remember that the pandemic has been, and in many ways and places remains, a profoundly sad time. We shouldn’t try to argue it away or sugar the pill. There has been a lot of death, and in nearly all cases people have died away from families and loved ones; funerals have been restricted and almost furtive. The reality of this has really hurt people; as Christians we need to recognise this hurt among ourselves and others. The book of Jeremiah is linked to the book of Lamentations, which plumbs the depths of despair at the destruction of the city (and which we sometimes use in Holy Week to reflect on the sufferings of Our Lord). In many parts of the world the sufferings brought on in the last few months, or existing sufferings made worse by it, resemble the scene of desolation in Lamentations and in this reading today.
Our worship in the Church needs and will need to respond to a need to lament: while we pray for those suffering and those who have died, we also need to articulate our simple feelings of sadness – a time to cry. Of all the Old Testament prophets we’ve been hearing at Mass, Jeremiah is the person to help us in this.
God bless and take care