Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Leaving our burdens outside the Holy City -- and our own homes

What if Jerusalem was truly a holy city?

What would that look like?

You might respond: What an odd question to ask. Jerusalem has been a holy city for 5,000 years.

Yet the reading this morning from the prophet Jeremiah 17:19-27 defines rather precisely what Jerusalem would look like if it were truly a holy city. Jeremiah’s vision (unlike some other biblical visions of Jerusalem) is not planted high in the clouds but firmly rooted on the ground:

“Thus says the Lord: For the sake of your lives, take care that you do not bear a burden on the sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the sabbath or do any work, but keep the sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors…
(verses 21-22)
“But if you listen to me, says the Lord, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but keep the sabbath day holy and do no work on it, then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall be inhabited for ever.”
(verse 24-25)

Some have interpreted these verses to mean do no physical work on the Sabbath, and that might be part of its meaning. But what if this means do not carry the burdens of worry, pain, guilt and sin when entering the gates of Jerusalem? Those are much harder burdens to set aside.

And what if this is not just about the locale of Jerusalem in present-day Israel, but about whatever city or town or village where we live?

How would our homes be made holy if we didn’t carry our burdens into them?

How much do our burdens block us from experiencing God and seeing the holy all around us?

Psalm 99 in this morning's readings talks about the “pillar of the cloud” that the people of Israel saw in the desert while wandering for 40 years (an echo of the story Numbers). God was under the cloud, and the people could not see or hear God in the cloud. But the people still answered God’s call despite how imperfectly they saw and heard.
“They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.” (verses 7)

The psalm and Jeremiah got me thinking: Do we have a hard time experiencing God because God is hiding behind a cloud? Or do we have a hard time experiencing God because we haul our burdens everywhere we go?

And what would our Jerusalems truly be like if we left our burdens behind long enough to sit in the presence of the Holy?

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

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