LENT 2021 – DAY 34

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Romans 11:25-36
John 11:28-44     

I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
[Jeremiah 31:34c]

There’s a hymn in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship Hymnal [ELW #792] that I’ve most often used at funerals for those departed souls who have suffered from Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is titled “When Memory Fades,” and is sung to the tune of “Finlandia,” by Jean Sibelius.

When memory fades, and recognition falters,
when eyes we love grow dim and minds confused,
speak to our souls of love that never alters;
speak to our hearts, by pain and fear abused.
O God of life and healing peace, empow’r us
with patient courage, by your grace infused.

If the melody isn’t haunting enough, the words are even more poignant.

In its 2020 tour, The St. Olaf Choir, of Northfield, Minnesota, performed a different arrangement of this song, sung to a different tune, but nonetheless, just as spellbinding.

Anton Armstrong
St. Olaf College Choir Director

St. Olaf’s Choir Director, Anton Armstrong, whose own mother suffered from dementia, related a story about one of his final visit with her in an interview about his selection of this piece. He sat with her in silence until she heard one of her favorite hymns and suddenly, as if a light had come on, she began to sing.

“When medical science couldn’t bring my mother back to me,” he said, “those hymns that she shared with me, those songs brought my mother back to me. And the rest of the day she was mommy.

“So the power of song, the power of communal song, is something that’s very powerful to me. That was for me, God’s grace in that moment.” (See the full interview by clicking HERE.)

In my funeral sermons I also remind those in attendance that memory is a gift that God has given us to keep our loved ones alive in our hearts after their earthly departure. I encourage them to share stories about their life together. It is a helpful way to heal the pain of loss.

But memory can also be a burden. Many of us are weighed down by the problems, mistakes, and hurts of yesterday. Many of us live with guilt over something we wish we’d never said or something we wish we had never done. Others live with resentment and bitterness because of an injustice that was done to us. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a way to get rid of the weight of unresolved guilt which weighs us down?

That’s what happens with forgiveness.  When we forgive, we are relieved of that burden.  We feel much better. The same thing happens when we are forgiven.

I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

When Jeremiah wrote these words, the Israelite nation was in exile.  They had disobeyed God and the price they paid for that disobedience was captivity and exile by the Babylonians.  These words were written as consolation to those people who had lost hope for repatriation to their homeland and, more importantly, a restoration to a right relationship with God.

In these words Jeremiah promised a new covenant that in some way would be different from the covenant that had been in force since God gave the law to Moses at Mount Sinai. 

The power of forgiveness has the potential to change our lives.  God has erased the record of our past wrongs, and if God has forgotten our past sins and mistakes, why should we remember them?  Why should we allow the pain of our past to define our future?

When Christ died on the cross, it was God’s way of forgetting our sinful past. It was a painful price to pay. Yet, to God, we are worth the great lengths that God went to in order to erase those sins that we continue to commit daily. By confessing that we are sinners, God offers us forgiveness. We serve a forgetful God, a God of Grace.

As we enter this Holy Week, as we relive the agony, the misery, suffering, and death of Jesus, God asks nothing more of us than to remember – remember that God has forgotten.

I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

And for that we say, “Thanks be to God!”

†     †     †

A reminder that there will be no post tomorrow, Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion.

Published by pastorallende

Retired Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Social justice and immigration reform advocate. Micah 6:8. Fluent in English and Spanish. I enjoy music and sports.

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