After last week’s continued deluge of very difficult readings in the Sunday lectionary, this Sunday we see the light of hope begin to dawn. The heartbroken question from Psalm 137 that resonated in my heart was “How can we sing the Lord’s song on alien soil?” We get part of an answer this week. In our reading from Jeremiah 29, we hear this:
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Last week, we saw the despair of the exiled in Psalm 137. Here we have the exiles being urged to not sit around in that despair, but to make new lives for themselves in the meantime. God has not abandoned them, but urges them to see that their life as a people continues. One of the reasons they can sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land is that God is not tied to any one land, but is always with God’s people wherever they are. It’s a subtle point, but life-giving for those who fear they have lost everything they hold dear.
What if we saw the asylum seekers and refugees of our world for what they are– as exiles, who have been driven from their homes by violence, by warfare, by hunger? In the face of loss and grief, resilience is a powerful form of resistance. In our words from Jeremiah, resilience and an embrace of the future is exactly what is being urged. What is being urged by God is not surrender. Rather, God is encouraging the people to stay strong, to keep their culture alive, in hope for tomorrow.
This word of hope and resistance through resilience is a message for our time as well. Not to close our eyes to our situation of being strangers in a strange land, but to resist it by refusing to subside into silence and surrender. To refuse to go away, and to refuse to forget the Lord’s song. This kind of hope is a product of faith as a healing, regenerative force, and it appears in our gospel passage this week, as well.
We who take seriously the example of Christ in our current time and try to embody that example know what is like to live as exiles, attempting to sing the Lord’s song on alien soil. The person of faith in our day and age is a person in exile from the world’s values, yet hope and faith enables us to have the power to grow into God’s call to us as bearers of God’s good news to the world. How best to resist those who seek to overpower you but to put down roots and flourish where you are planted, and to do it with joy, knowing that God accompanies you wherever you are?
Singing the song of the Lord on alien soil is the challenge and the gift of the Christian life, especially in our current time which too often elevates devious behavior, lying, contempt, and taking advantage of the weak and the poor for profit. We are called to sing that song of the Lord even in the face of ill-will and even outright evil, as an act of resistance to the soul-sickness that pervades too many in our time. We are called to re-member the good things God has done for us, and to carry that hope as a visible banner for those around us.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.