“Long, Long Time”

Written by Jonathan Page, Director of Connectional Ministries for Innovation and Creativity for the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Glen Allen, VA

Trees with light coming through. A Voice in the Wilderness

Jeremiah 29:1-14

The best episode of television I’ve watched in the last year was called “Long, Long Time”. It’s the third episode of the first season of a show called The Last of Us. The premise of the show is that a cataclysmic virus is sweeping the world, turning most of humanity into a form of living-dead-being and leaving a few people to make their way through an apocalyptic mess to some kind of safety, home, and hope.

In this particular episode, there is a focus on two characters named Bill and Frank. Bill finds shelter early in the space of the viral event and spends most of his energy protecting his fortress. Frank is a traveler seeking shelter who stumbles across Bill’s space in the wilderness. While the initial reaction is one of rigid denial, eventually Bill allows Frank to come and get some food. Which then turns to a space to rest. Which then turns to a relationship that spans years and grows connection and grace in a multitude of capacities.

What began as a temporary stay of pity became a long-lasting reminder of hope. In many ways, this tender relationship and connection was a reminder of the depth of care these people had for one another, a way of providing one another shelter in the space of unrest.

Shelter in the space of unrest is a familiar concept for Jeremiah’s community. These are a people that have been evicted from what they have known, left to meander through Babylon with meager hope that they might one day return home. Jeremiah, while still in Jerusalem, writes to his people and offers an astonishing first piece of wisdom: “Build homes.” He’s not advising them to pray or to strategize how to get back where they’ve come from. He wants them to make a new dwelling in this unfamiliar place.

I imagine his motivation, in part, is that he knows there will be time and trials ahead. Making camp where they are is not enough – there must be a connection to the land and to the people that will sustain them through all that is to come. Verse 7 stands out in this prophetic word: “Pursue the peace and welfare of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to Me, the Eternal, for Babylon because if it has peace, you will live in peace.” It’s as if Jeremiah understands a simple truth in this moment – you will harvest the fruit of the seeds you plant. Not the seeds you wish you planted, nor the fruit you might prefer; no, you will get out what you put in.

In The Last of Us, it was a single seed of mercy that changed the story. That mercy didn’t make the story resolve cleanly, by the way. Spoiler alert, but Bill and Frank don’t make it out alive. But the home they create and cultivate eventually leads to being a space of shelter and promise for other travelers along the way. Even in the wake of death, the fruits of grace and mercy long outlive these people.

Maybe Jeremiah knows this for his people, and even for us too. It’s why he is bold enough to share that (in)famous eleventh verse: “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.” We would do well to note that, much to the chagrin of many American prosperity preachers, this is not a prophecy for today or tomorrow; rather, it will be for those who are living 70 years down the line. But the seeds that are planted today will be those that are harvested for generations to come.

And within this there is a Lenten blessing. Sometimes you have to build homes in exile and reside and make peace for a season before you can come back home. Sometimes those homes, those places you’d rather not live, also become the places you die. And in whatever exilic territory you might find yourself, know this: God already plants the seed of grace, mercy, and love in the hardened yet beloved soil of your soul. God knows that there is a good harvest that can come from all of God’s good creation.

So might you do the same. In this space of Lent, might you build a home in the place you’d rather not be and the condition you’d rather not suffer. Might you choose to sow peace and grace when it feels like contempt and malice might have a more fertile ground. And might you trust that the harvest will come from what you plant, even if it is not yours to see.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

A Voice in the Wilderness: Lent 2024

Find all entries from A Voice in the Wilderness online here: haymarketchurch.org/lent24