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‘Redemption: Covenant Hope’ , a chapter from David Atkinson, Renewing the Face of the Earth, 2008 Canterbury Press.
Reprinted with permission of Canterbury Press.
Great is the mystery of faith:
Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.
Common Worship, Holy Communion
In the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam hangs one of the most famous of Rembrandt’s earlier works, painted in 1630. It is called Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem, and depicts the prophet Jeremiah with a sorrowful face lined with wrinkles and covered with a while beard, melancholically resting his head on his hand. His elbow is propped on a large book. Around him are various precious vessels, perhaps from the temple. The date is 587 BC. Exiles from the kingdom of Judah are being taken away to Babylon. Away in the far distance in the painting, Jerusalem is being plundered by Nebuchadnezzar’s troops and Judah’s King Zedekiah, blinded by the invading soldiers, is covering his eyes. It is the scene Jeremiah had been warning against for all of his long ministry. The book presumably represents the Book of the Law which had been the basis of the reforms of good King Josiah who was a contemporary of Jeremiah in his younger days. The young king was aware of the political unrest in the region, that the northern kingdom of Israel had been brought to an end and that his kingdom of Judah was effectively a vassal of the mighty Assyria. The early chapters of Jeremiah’s prophecy depict a people enmeshed in pagan worship and immorality. Josiah sought the LORD, and began a programme of reform, trying to purge the country of idolatry. The discovery of a forgotten book of the law, which many people identify with Deuteronomy, gave to King Josiah, and also the prophet Jeremiah, a firm basis on which to call the people back to their covenant God, and their covenant obligations. For Jeremiah, as for Amos and other prophets two hundred years earlier, God’s judgment was falling on the people of God because they had broken his covenant and turned from his ways.
Jeremiah reflects on the miseries of his time, both of the people and of the environment, and sees in them a sign of God’s judgment.