Reflection for Fifth Sunday of Lent

Selective Memory.

Jeremiah 31:34 “for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

I wonder if you have ever found yourself reliving an event over, and over again in your mind. Perhaps it’s an event where you have been hurt, or worse, where you have hurt somebody. You relive the memory to the extent that the event feels as if it is happening all over again. It’s like a video playing in your head. And then you start to edit the video – to reshape the event so that it’s the way you wish it had been. Or, if you have been hurt, you start to think about the sequel – how you can “get your own back.”

Of course, it’s not always a negative memory that we bring back to life. I think what we do at funerals as we share a funeral tea, is to “bring back to life” the person who has died, through those memories which we cherish.

And I suspect that the day we received our covid19 vaccination is one we will remember and relive for many years to come.

This “bringing the memory alive” begins to capture the Biblical sense of “remember”. The command to remember is one of the most important biblical themes. It’s not just about recalling an event or person, but about recalling it in such a way that the past event is made present once again. Remember the Lord your God. Remember the marvels he has done. Remember the sabbath and keep it holy. Do this in remembrance of me. Don’t just call them to mind, but by remembering, call on their power, that you too may experience now God’s marvels, God’s holiness, God’s sacrificial love. As Brother Geoffrey Tristram says in a sermon on this theme “To remember in this way is to literally re-member, in the way that a surgeon may put a broken body together again.  What was in the past, has taken form and has become fully and powerfully present now.”

At the beginning of our old testament reading Jeremiah declares “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant.” and concludes “for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” Given the Hebrew meaning of “remember”, isn’t that such a powerful statement from God. “remember their sin no more.” It’s not that God will forget or pretend he never knew, but rather that, through love and mercy, He chooses not to remember: those sins are taken away, removed, no longer present. A remarkable display of love in this new covenant.

And as we fast forward to our gospel reading Jesus declares that God’s new covenant is being inaugurated through him. “The hour has come – for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Here we have Jesus, as Passover approaches – the greatest festival of remembrance for Jewish people – declaring that God’s new covenant is happening now. And in the most unexpected way – by his being” lifted up from the earth” on a cross. This for John is not tragedy but triumph; is not shame but glory. When John speaks of glory he speaks of the cross.

In Jesus there is established a “Jacob’s ladder” between heaven and earth which creates the means whereby heaven can reach down to earth, and earth can be raised up to heaven.

And Jesus goes on to say that his “glorious” death is the seed for all human beings to be “lifted up.”; raised. Indeed that his death is essential for “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

This “glorious” death is the ultimate expression of the love that God has for humanity. As John says “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:3)

It is little wonder that one of the few commands Jesus makes to his disciples is “Do this in order to remember me”, as he breaks bread and offers wine at the Last Supper. And the meaning here is that in the eucharist we are invited to bring into the present the very presence of Jesus and his death and resurrection. To make the event real in the here and now, and in our lives.

There is no Last Supper in John’s gospel. In many ways it has been replaced by the foot washing. Perhaps this reinforces two aspects. Firstly, as Jesus washes his disciples feet he issues another command, that they should “love one another”. As we remember God’s great expression of love, as we bring it alive in the here and now, we are being invited to be transformed by that love into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Secondly, that our remembering in the eucharist is a means to empower us for service in the world. The word “mass” to describe the eucharist comes from the Latin missa, meaning to send. We are sent out to be Christs body in the world.

So, as Passiontide starts this year, may we be encouraged to truly remember as we trace the events of Holy week; as we stand at the foot of the cross; as we stare at the empty tomb; as we are transfixed by our risen Lord. These are events which are truly worth reliving in our minds over and over again. They have the power to change us.

Let me finish with the collect for the 2nd Sunday in Lent. “Almighty God, by the prayer and discipline of Lent may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings, and by following in his Way come to share in his glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”