“…for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
“….he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
God promises to “remember [our] sin no more.” It’s not that God forgets—that’s what we do or, at least, what I do. But the Lord’s amnesia is intentional, a matter of God’s will. Unlike my own advancing forgetfulness, God chooses not to remember: selective amnesia as divine choice, volition. The Lord wills not to remember our sin: speaking with the voice of God, Jeremiah says, “I will…remember their sin no more.”
God’s choice to forget sin forms the counterpoint to forgiveness: “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” In other words, God chooses not to remember what has been forgiven. In still other words, the Lord remembers our iniquity that he may forget our sin. God chooses not to remember our sin: (as we say in the Confession) the things “we have done, and the things we have failed to do.” But, more than that, the Lord forgives the way we are. God chooses to forgive that we are sinful. This forgiving and intentional forgetting are primary signs of God’s love. As Paul says: “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Christ’s death for us equals God’s love for us.
Speaking with the voice of Jesus, today’s Gospel puts it this way: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John’s Gospel speaks poetically of crucifixion. Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth. “Lifted up” is John’s image of crucifixion. When Jesus is crucified, he is “lifted up from the earth.” John makes this clear in the last line of today’s Gospel when he says, “He [that is, Christ] said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” In other words, the death of Jesus is no accident, no mistake, not a simple overreach of Roman imperial power, nor the vicious result of mean-spirited religious authority.
Jesus was crucified because he intended to be crucified. Moreover, because the Father willed it; being lifted up, being crucified is the Son’s whole purpose (“….it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”). The Son’s crucifixion is the Lord’s subversive means of “glorifying the Father’s name.”
If nothing else, the crucifixion of Jesus makes us reconsider what “glory” means, and most especially what the “glory of God” means. How can the brutal and humiliating death of God’s only begotten Son glorify the Father’s name? Instead of “glory,” common sense (that most uncommon of all human traits), common sense understands the crucifixion of the Father’s beloved Son (in the language of Phyllis Tribble) as “divine child abuse,” the deranged activity of a madman, the opposite of “glory.”
In saving us, the Son contradicts us. Hebrews says that “Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, ‘You are my Son, to day I have begotten you,’” and “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” In other words, the Father’s appointment of the Son, the consecration the Son as high priest after Melchizedek, the mythic King of Righteousness, underscores the intentionality of Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, and death.
Left to ourselves, we might imagine a king of righteousness lording it over us and enforcing his rule by means of strict religious authority—a severe righteousness manifest in power both dominant and unyielding, punishing and condemning us for being sinful—for the things we have done or left undone.
But Christ does not rule by means of domineering power; he reigns in suffering, weakness, and death. Hebrews goes on to say that, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him (read raise him) from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him….” In other words, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the King of Righteousness, suffers and dies for unrighteous sinners—for all who oppose God. The Obedient suffers and dies for the disobedient. God heard Christ’s prayers and supplications, heard his loud cries and saw his tears, so that the Son might be “lifted up.” The Father listened and saw not because of the Son’s righteous power, but because of his holy weakness, his reverent submission [to the Father’s will], his submission to crucifixion, his being lifted up from the earth.
Heard in this way, this Lenten Gospel proclaims the Father’s choice, and not ours. In doing so, it echoes Jeremiah’s proclamation of the “new covenant.” According to Jeremiah, God’s “I will” expresses the new covenant. In four brief verses, God says “I will” six times and “they shall” twice: “I will make a new covenant;” “I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” “They shall all know me….I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” In the new covenant the Lord violates our disobedient will, and does so by means of the Son’s holy weakness, his obedient and “reverent submission.”
In Christ Jesus, the Father’s will trumps our will. He draws us to himself by the power of his suffering and death: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” This is the magnetic power of the crucified Christ. Baptized into his death and resurrection, he draws us to himself. In him, we die to ourselves, that we might live like a seed buried in the earth, ever rising toward him in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.