CNS photo/courtesy Jesuit Refugee Service

Reach for the helping hand of hope

  • October 23, 2014

All Souls’ Day (Year A) Nov. 2 (Lamentations 3:17-26; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Matthew 11:25-30) 

How do we go on when our whole world has collapsed? 

Jeremiah had witnessed more destruction and suffering than we can imagine. It was shortly after 586 BC when the Babylonians destroyed the temple and sacked the city of Jerusalem. The sack of the city had been accompanied by unimaginable slaughter and pillage and Jeremiah had become a refugee. 

Following a literary form common in ancient Mesopotamia, the lamentations were composed around this time to commemorate the destruction in religious ritual and to pray for restoration. At first, Jeremiah expressed very human feelings: he had no peace and was completely overwhelmed with grief and despair. Those in every age who have lost homes, loved ones and country to war, revolution, famine or natural disaster will resonate with Jeremiah’s expressed feelings. 

The Lamentations describe well many of the events of our own day — history often has a depressingly repetitious quality. What kept Jeremiah going? The answer is simple — hope. 

He remembered the steadfast, unfailing love and mercies of God. Every day the world begins anew with fresh opportunities and God’s mercies are renewed daily. Rather than give in to rage, despair and cynicism, Jeremiah made his choice: he would put his hope and trust in the Lord and wait patiently. 

He left us some good advice. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. Patience is always in short supply — we want everything now, especially answers to our prayers. God’s love and mercy never cease or take a day off, but often we don’t wait around to see how things turn out. 

Jeremiah’s words are as relevant today as they were 2,600 years ago. There is not much to lean on or trust in our world and we are traveling through a period of great upheaval and insecurity. There is only one thing that will give us the courage to keep moving ahead with grace and dignity: The love of the Lord that never ceases, and his mercies that never come to an end. If we keep that always in our minds and hearts, all will be well. 

Death has always been a source of fear and anxiety for people, but especially during critical times in which death seems to be everywhere. What will happen when we die? Is there any hope? Paul brushed aside many of the literal or Earthbound ideas about the resurrection and the afterlife. Flesh cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but spirit definitely can! He showed how we will all be transformed in an instant in a dazzling display of God’s love and creative power. 

But it will not be business as usual — the body that we will inherit is of a very different order and spiritual in nature. The fear of death will be no more. As for when this will happen, we can call to mind Jeremiah’s advice to wait quietly and in hope for the salvation of the Lord. 

So much of God’s subtle activity in the world remains hidden from those who cannot understand or appreciate it. Being ‘wise and intelligent’ is no guarantee that one will understand, because God’s ways are certainly different from ours. God is not something we ‘figure out.’ Additionally, the ‘wise and intelligent’ often bend things to their own ends. 

It was the ‘nobodies’ and those on the margins that God allowed to witness the unfolding of the divine plan. Jesus was granted a unique knowledge and experience of God the Father that he was willing and eager to share with those open to receive it. The yoke that he offers to the weary and burdened is easy and light. Being ‘easy’ does not mean that it provides an escape from the difficulties of life, but since it is the yoke of divine love and mercy it can help us navigate our earthly journey. 

Jeremiah’s words still hold true! God does not intervene in human history to fix things, especially the mess that humans make of the world. We will still have to face the pain and struggle of human existence, along with its joys and victories. The ‘yoke’ of Jesus will give us hope, courage, rest and peace for our souls, and the inspiration to continue the journey in a positive and reasonably joyful manner.