Jeremiah 20:9 – But if I say, "I will not mention him or speak any more in his name," his word is in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
Several times throughout the year, our town's ecumenical group of Christians – Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, and Catholics – gather for a joint worship service. The hosting church usually provides the liturgy and choir, and a visiting preacher or two speak on a theme which celebrates our similarities.
This past fall, however, was the first time I attended the group's Thanksgiving Service offered at Temple Emmanuel, our town's only Jewish synagogue. We worshipped as "monotheists," drawing solely upon our shared heritage of Hebrew Scriptures. A Lutheran minister provided an especially gap-bridging sermon, emphasizing his church's apology to the Jewish people for derogatory comments Martin Luther had made in his later years.
Yet through all the readings, the chanting, the singing, and the post-worship fellowship, I was acutely conscious of being Christian. I experienced a deep awareness of the presence of Jesus as I worshipped as He might have, with the understanding that the promises of the prophets had been fulfilled. We were truly in Temple Emmanuel.
After the service the rabbi's wife, Leah, engaged me in a spirited conversation about the possible motivations and feelings of the matriarchs – normally an area of great interest – but my anxiety only increased as I ached to break free and be with "my own kind." (A Christian of any denomination was now "my own kind." Did others feel similarly, I wondered?) It took such an effort to limit my point of view to the Old Testament, and to avoid using the phrase, "Old Testament." Eventually I eased away, and yes, others felt similarly and similarly blessed.
That evening I found out what it might have been like for Jeremiah to have both the fervour of "his word in my heart like a burning fire," and the wearying strain of "holding it in." (Like the prophet, indeed, I could not.) What a marvellous gift, as only by trying to "hold it in" could I begin to understand how big and unrestrainable "His Word" is!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are with me always, only sometimes I'm just more aware of it. Thanks for those reminders. What an abundant life you offer! A glimpse into Jeremiah's heart, an awareness of your presence and origins, and a little step (maybe a nudge?) closer to the complete unity you so desire for us. Help me to keep your word in my heart, and to recognize all people as your brothers and sisters – whether we realize it or not, whether we feel "comfortable" together or not. Amen.