Jeremiah offers a compelling vision: the people together, a great company, coming home. But the picture is all wrong. They seem to be marching triumphantly like a military party coming back from war. They move along the banks of the water in plain sight. But this is no army. This is a bunch of worn down and broken nobodies. And they seem to know it.
They walk back home through a curtain of tears. Forget those translations that say they come home with “tears of joy” (Jeremiah 31:9, CEB, NLT). The text does not say that. It simply says that they were weeping.
The return home is imaged in sadness. They are anxious travelers. They are totally vulnerable. The women are having babies beside the streams. The blind folks are still in darkness. The disabled still limp. So where is the good news in this situation? Is nothing here being made right? I suppose coming home is the praise-worthy event. But even that is a mixed bag. Home is often a troubled place.
Home for the exiles is a place fraught with complicated memories and intimate trauma. Home was once a land flowing with milk and honey, but when they left it flowed with blood and tears. For those carried off into exile, home was a horror. A place of rape and murder and all consuming loss. It is no wonder that they weep on there way back to this place of devastation.
For many of us, the idea of coming home carries the same kind of tension. For many people, coming home means peeling back old wounds and inviting forgotten memories back in.
He has spent a lifetime of months in the hell of war. Months with a gun strapped to his back and fear strapped to his heart. Roadside bombs and midnight raids replaced his morning commute and peaceful sleep. He has lost friends, sanity, and every shred of innocence. And now he is coming home. But he can’t forget. PTSD settles into the skin. Anger keeps flooding in, and he can’t figure out how to stop crying.
First they slept apart, one in the bed and the other on the couch. But eventually the betrayal and fighting drove them to different homes all together. She stays in the house, which is a shell of their former home. He is off with some other woman. The kids can’t find the center to save their lives; they can’t stand up straight anymore. Everyone cries all the time. And then there is a phone call. He is coming home, if they will have him. But even as she says the door is open, they both know the pain is far from over.
She stumbles home with her daughter’s lifeless body in her arms. The ambulance was right there, only a few steps away, but the checkpoint guards would not let her through. The baby was ready to come before she could make it somewhere safe. No one was waiting to clean the child off and weigh it. No one was waiting there to swaddle the newborn or put her to her mother’s breast. Instead her father had to cut her cord with a sharp stone. The newborn girl died in occupied territory, in the wilderness, far from home. And now the man and woman have only the memory of their daughter’s eyes and her cry, which breaks in their throats as they weep all the way home.
So how do you come home? Well, one foot in front of the other. And no matter how bad it hurts or how long the journey takes, where else are you going to go? Sometimes groping in darkness, limping from old wounds, but still on the way.
As people of the promise, there is hope on the other side of every sadness. The good news is that we can come home. But this hope still carries the memory of everything that breaks in this life. The remnant of Israel that Jeremiah envisions is a ragtag bunch of nobodies. A sad bunch of nobodies. And yet it is precisely in this weeping group of travelers that hope springs forth. It will take time to wipe their tears away. It will take time to heal, to straighten their backs and look to the future. But a day will come when the nightmares become dreams (Psalm 126:1). When sadness becomes dancing. But even in that day, a tear or two might fall for all that has broken.
So may you not be afraid of the pain,
May you let the tears fall,
Your heart break
And may you trust that there is good news in putting one foot in front of the other,
That streams can open in the wilderness,
And may you remember that even Jesus laid in the ground for more than one day…