Four times, the prophet Jeremiah describes the cry of pleasure and delight that escapes the lips of the bride and bridegroom. Our English translations are coy, but this description is of the cry, the roar, the scream of orgasm; the timeless moment which both takes us out of our body and unites us with another. And it is a metaphor for communion between God’s people—as a community—and God.
The first three times, God, speaking through Jeremiah, says that he will banish such sounds from Jerusalem; the fourth time, God says he will restore such sounds to Jerusalem. This, then, is a way of speaking of the experiential absence of God, and the experiential union with God.
In Luke 11:42-46, the Gospel set for Holy Communion today, Jesus declares a series of woes to the Pharisees and scribes. ‘Woe’ is a visceral cry of lament—the phonetic rendering is oo-aa-ee! It is the cry of deep personal loss, such as the death of a child, or weeping over Jerusalem. It is the longing for that reversal of fortune only God can bring—for only the felt presence of God can satisfy the felt absence of God. It is the mirror image of Jeremiah’s cry.
Jesus’ heartfelt cry over these particular Pharisees seems to be that they believe that by doing and saying the right things, they will keep the world from falling apart; when, in fact, the world they were living in was already devastated and they knew it not. He calls them to join in with the cry of lament, of longing for the day of the restored cry of orgasm. And they will know this communion with God in communion with the people, as a community, or not at all.
These woes, then, are not primarily a warning (though they are that) or a judgement (though they are that, too) or even an insult (though they were taken to be that). They are, primarily, an invitation. An invitation to longing, to desire, and to the expectation of desire’s consummation.
But that is perhaps a little too much for an English congregation on a wet Wednesday morning...