by Harriett Jane Olson
At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. Thus says the Lord: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit. For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: “Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.” —Jeremiah 31:1–6
Jeremiah offers a wonderful poetic and prophetic plan for restoration in the joy-filled reading for Easter Sunday. The passage speaks with great immediacy of what it will mean for the Hebrew people who are living in exile to be the people of God. Jeremiah is confident in expecting the fulfillment of God’s project. As Christians, we affirm that God’s project extends to Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. And, in the Easter season, we remember and celebrate that God extends self-giving love over and over again, not limited by Jesus’ death or its horror or the failure of all the disciples or our own hopes and plans.
It seems very appropriate in this season, after years of grappling with COVID and amid disaffiliations and grief, that we are reminded of the sort of restoration that Jeremiah foresaw. The restoration would follow a time of struggle, of surviving the sword. (Was it the sword of enemies? Of persecution? Of illness? Of division?) And yet, this people, who will be God’s people, are assured that they will find grace in the wilderness.
This grace appears in the wilderness, and from a distance (vv. 2–3). What a comfort that image may be to us! Have not we too sometimes felt that God was at a distance from our struggle or that we were deep in a wilderness without a sense of direction? Even there, God is loving the people with everlasting love. We may hear echoes here of Isaiah’s vision of many nations streaming to Jerusalem to learn the ways of peace (Is. 2:2–5).
Check our Perceptions
Easter comes to us as a time to check our perceptions. The truth of the gospel is that God has already completed the work of reconciliation for us to walk in. The truth is that God’s love persists. The truth is that God’s project and Jesus’ life are not in vain, but that we are being gathered into a community even before we perceive it. In our Mission u study, we will learn about living as residents of this community, this kin-dom.
This Easter season, I pray that we can see Jeremiah’s testimony as a call to us in our organization and in The United Methodist Church. May we step forward to serve, to love and rejoice, to dance and play our tambourines, as Jeremiah prophesied. Easter and its reality in our lives stand for joy, for restoration of the goodness that God created and the reconciliation that Jesus makes possible, and for our acting on our calling. For the people Jeremiah was addressing, that meant planting vineyards and tending them and expecting to enjoy the harvests.
Those of us who are not from regions where grapes are grown might well miss the implication here. One doesn’t plant grapevines in the spring and expect to have wine in the fall. One plants, tends, trains, nourishes, and cultivates the grapevines. Jeremiah is looking ahead to years of restoration work building up to fruitful seasons. So also, may we look ahead to work rooted in hope, stepping into the character of the family of God. For United Women in Faith that means connecting with new women who are seeking to grow in faith and who want their faith to make a difference in the world. It means building right relationships with communities seeking justice and respect. It means giving to fund our work on behalf of women, children, and youth. It means finding grace in the wilderness and allowing God to make all the difference.
Friends and sisters, it’s Easter! The tomb is empty. Christ is risen! God’s love has accomplished all that is needed. Let us plan and work for the joy that lies ahead.
Harriett Jane Olson is General Secretary and CEO of United Women in Faith.
Children’s art is from the 2023 Prayer Guide.