28 December 2011

Jeremiah 31:15-17 (Holy Innocents)

"Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refues to be comforted for her children, because they are no more." (v. 15)


When the wise men arrived from the east, searching for "the child who has been born king of the Jews" (Matthew 2:2), King Herod, threatened by the prospect, requested that they tell him where the child is to be found. Having located him and offered their gifts, however, they "left for their own country by another road" (Matthew 2:12). In an attempt to get rid of the child Jesus, Herod had all the male children in and around Bethlehem, under the age of two, killed. Joseph and Mary, with the infant Jesus, fled to Egypt and remained there until Herod was dead.

This distressing tale is described in Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 2:16-18) as a fulfilment of the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah which form our reading today. The children who were killed became known as 'the Holy Innocents' and have been considered martyrs from the early days of the Church. The numbers involved were probably fewer than sometimes depicted but this doesn't diminish the horror of the episode.

The verses from Jeremiah do include a message of comfort and hope but it is insightful that Rachel "refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more". Lamentation and bitter weeping are appropriate responses to tragedy however it manifests itself. And lamentation must not be hurried or even bypassed. For hope ever to become tangible and for light and healing ever to emerge the journey through lamentation must be endured.

In the midst of lamentation, of course, the message of this season is of relevance. God is with us, however tragic the circumstances. This does not remove us from the situation; it assures us that one who has been through the darkest of times accompanies us on our journey.

To Ponder

Humankind has the potential to inflict great evil and suffering on itself. Do you find this undermines your belief in God or strengthens it? How?

British people often pride themselves on having 'a stiff upper lip'. And Christians are sometimes encouraged to 'always look on the bright side of life'. Have these impulses ever inhibited your ability to lament? And what is the value of properly embracing lamentation?

Reflecting on difficult and dark times in your life to date, try and identify how God has accompanied you on your journey.

Bible notes author

The Revd Graham Jones

Graham Jones is a Methodist presbyter serving as a member of the Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network in the Yorkshire Plus region of the Methodist Church, with particular responsibility for ministry development. Graham is committed to developing ministry in its broadest sense, enabling both lay and ordained to live out their vocations, and to share in God's mission in the most fulfilling and effective ways.