Carpentaria Presbytery Minister Rev Garry Hardingham reflects on recent news coming from Victoria of another COVID-19 outbreak and looks to Jeremiah 28 for understanding our own predicament of enduring the COVID-19 yoke.
Over the last few days I have been enthralled by the story of Jeremiah and Hananiah from the book of Jeremiah, chapter 28. I see such richness in its troubling tale.
In simple terms the story goes like this. The Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, held a number of nations in bondage and so Zedekiah, the king of Judah invites emissaries from several surrounding nations to convene in Jerusalem in order to plot a possible revolt against Babylon. Jeremiah addresses the emissaries and instead of backing the revolt builds a number of wooden yokes for the emissaries to take back to their kings to remind them of their bondage under Nebuchadnezzar. He instructs these nations to admit that Nebuchadnezzar’s “yoke” is Yahweh’s will for each of them, and that to submit to it is the only way forward for safety and survival. Jeremiah himself puts on the yoke meant for Judah and then tells the priests and people not to believe in those who promote revolt.
But one of them, Hananiah, comes forward and breaks the yoke around Jeremiah’s neck and claims that God has spoken to him and that Nebuchadnezzar will soon be defeated. But Hananiah’s call for revolt against Babylon only results in harsher treatment and Jeremiah comes back and accuses Hananiah of breaking the wooden yoke only for it to be replaced by a much harsher iron yoke. He then predicts Hananiah’s death which, of course, duly happens.
Now this story has a parallel today in the time of pandemic and is a cautionary tale for those who want to break the yoke of the coronavirus and quickly get the community back to normality. Across the world and even here in Australia, some governments and some people have been too quick to lower their guard against the virus. In Victoria we are now seeing the reintroduction of harsh lockdowns just when the people were experiencing freedom. For my niece in Melbourne who is expecting her first baby with her mother living up here, it seems like a cruel blow when she was so filled with hope.
So, what is the lesson we can learn from Jeremiah and what’s going on in Victoria now? Well, as much as we might rail against the coronavirus and all that it is subjecting our world to, we have to submit to its yoke in these times. Until we have a vaccine, COVID-19 will have the upper hand. This is not the flu. Yes, the flu takes many lives every year, but the flu does not overwhelm our health system, nor spread with such virality, nor create numerous long-term health issues even for those who get only mild symptoms.
But that does not mean we hide away in forced isolation. We get on with our lives mindful of the burden of the yoke that we all bear, looking out for each other, keeping each other safe and being vigilant towards our cruel master.
As we slowly open up our communities and our churches, each one of us has a responsibility to look out for those around us and to take every precaution deemed necessary. We must carry the wooden yoke of servitude to this virus until, like Babylon, its power is finally broken.
For someone like Jeremiah who is often seen as the epitome of a pessimist, his call to carry the yoke for a little while longer and to be patient for God’s action resonates down through the ages. It reminds me of what Rev Christy Allen wrote back in Carpentaria Link 7 in April when she echoed the words of Isaiah 26:20, “Come, my people, enter your chambers and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the wrath is past.”
Both Isaiah and Jeremiah are calling for us to be patient, to be vigilant and Christ’s call from the cross is to be loving and forgiving even in the darkness of of our torment.
So, be patient with each other and heed the health directives from the government and we will find life and hope even under the burden of this current yoke.
Rev Garry Hardingham