These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. “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.” (Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7)
We find ourselves in a kind of exile. We are unable to gather in our beautiful church to worship together in the ways that are familiar and comforting to us. We are unable to work and play as usual. We have little certainty what the next weeks may bring and do not know when this period of exile will end.
After a military defeat, the people of Israel lived 70 years in exile in Babylon. I have been reflecting on the words sent to them by the prophet Jeremiah. Live where you are. Find new ways to thrive. Don’t wait until you return to continue your life – your life is here, now. And pray for the place where you find yourself, because in its welfare you will find yours.
We are similarly called to thrive in this time. We are not building new houses, but we are living in them differently. And we are building new virtual spaces where we can gather, using the technology that is available to us. We can gather not just as our immediate St. Mary’s community, but we can visit other churches and communities worldwide, helping us understand more deeply the truly global nature of the Body of Christ. And we are finding new ways to be Christ’s body in our own community, with some offering to pick up groceries and medicine for others who need to remain isolated. We are intentionally creating networks of support to help people stay connected and to foster deeper relationships with each other. In all we are doing, I feel like we are planting a virtual garden together. I am full of holy curiosity about what it will produce.
In this time of exile from the familiar, may we turn again, always, more deeply to God, our rock. For strength and courage, for comfort and consolation, for rest and renewal. Wherever we are, God is. Whether we weep or rejoice, God is with us. Thanks be to God.