Edmund de Waal who wrote the best selling “The Hare with the Amber Eyes” which I have not read also wrote a history of porcelain. This begins with a trip to Jingdezhen a famous city for porcelain from ancient China. On an old road near an old farm with a wrecked car parked outside propped up on bricks he climbs a nearby hill and discovers under his feet a mountain of shards of broken pots dating back hundreds of years. He says “and the wares that went wrong wold have been thrown over the shoulder from the kiln mouth- so many many thousands of pots that haven’t worked. Fascinating,, really, that only a short plane ride away we can connect with Jeremiah’s words, with the words of the Lord. Of course Jeremiah is describing pots before they are fired but nonetheless the making of pots and the frequent need to rework the clay to reach the desired shape and properties is an ancient idea.
“So I went down to the potter’s house and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled - and he reworked it as seemed good to him.” (Jer 18:4)
Jeremiah is speaking to and about the nation of Israel: Look out the Lord may fashion punishment against you, turn now from your evil ways so I may instead once more build up your people. I have in mind the BBC black and white television “interlude” I think it was called; a little film between programmes showing a potter’s wheel and hands slowly raising a pot from a pool of clay.
There is a modern Hillsong worship song by Darlene Zschech (a favourite at Spring Harvest and similar gatherings). I am not to trouble you with the music but the lyrics of the chorus say this:
Take me, mould me
Use me, fill me
I give my life to the potter’s hands
Hold me, guide me
Lead me, walk beside me
I will give my life to the potter’s hand.
This is a difficult idea, we are not educated to rely on others, to trust, to work in other than our own ability - to fall back into the arms of another. We question even those trained to look our health, to protect us for example from disease. This is not new : verse 12 of our reading
“But they (Israel) say “it is no use we will follow our own plans and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of our evil will.!”
The book of Jeremiah dates from more than 500 years before Christ - I love those moments when the Old Testament comes alive and is right up to date. We are still following our own plans for the world for in it there is inequality, poverty, war, avoidable illness, famine. Do you perhaps wake up some mornings and pray for the whole pot to be reworked into another vessel as would seem “Good to Him?”
De Waal Edmund The White Road, A pilgrimage of sorts London Chatto and Windus 2015