Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns
that can hold no water. – Jeremiah 2:11-13
Just now in the Daily Office, we are making our way through the book of the prophet Jeremiah. This is (often alternatively, sometimes simultaneously) a difficult yet also beautiful book of scripture. It tells us things hard to hear, but its honesty is cleansing and renewing. It is perhaps the perfect Old Testament book for Lent.
Today’s lection ends with one of those phrases standing as a microcosm of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry. It says, in essence, that we have traded what worked for what is broken. Using the image of trading a spring of fresh, cool water for a cracked rock pit makes quite a point in a land prone to drought.
Lent’s gift to us is frequently the opportunity for God to speak with us honestly. When the difficult conversation takes place—not unlike the difficult conversations we sometimes have to have with a doctor, a lawyer, or (when we let our minds wander while driving) the police—the first thing we are likely to feel is the sting of shame, followed by disappointment in ourselves. The tendency is to blame others, find and excuse, or proudly continue on in the same path through an evermore-refined skill of denial. That decision is ours to make. God has chosen to circumscribe His own Divine Power at the gates of our will.
But God will keep knocking at those gates. God is very persistent. He will continue to put experiences, images, encounters, and opportunities in our minds and lives—all of them gifts of mercy, when rightly understood. The first stage of that understanding is usually when we come to understand that we have become suckers, dupes, for sin. Ouch.
Our God doesn’t want us to be suckers. He doesn’t want us to exchange Life for Death, a continuous fountain for a broken cistern. That is not why we were created. God, the author and creator of Life and Love will never settle for an imitation of these great gifts of Communion with the Trinity: neither may we.
And so Lent’s unique gift and joy, the gift of Truth, is given once more—beginning with the Hard Words of our God spoken through a prophet who lived thousands of years ago in an entirely different part of the world, but continuing in the specifics of our own lives, our own encounters with the God who desires our salvation, our wholeness. Let us open the gates of our will, and let our God in.