|Salvador Dali 'Christ of St John' (1951)|
The name of the prophet Jeremiah is synonymous with someone who is forever predicting doom and destruction. It is true that much of the book of Jeremiah is given over to dire warnings, but in the Old Testament lesson for this Sunday, Jeremiah’s tone is optimistic, and he offers a brighter vision of God’s relation with his forgiven people, a ‘new covenant’ when the law of God is no longer an external set of rules, but ‘written on our hearts’. Despite this optimism, the subsequent history of Israel continued to be one of spiritual failures and material disasters, and called forth new generations of Jeremiahs. Christians believe that the new covenant Jeremiah prophesies here was finally made real in Jesus Christ – but not in the way that the prophets expected.
The author of Hebrews tells us that when “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, he was heard because of his reverent submission”. But why does it say that he was heard, when God did NOT save him from death on the Cross? The Gospel passage highlights this paradox. Jesus confesses that his “soul is troubled’ and that the prayer “Save me from this hour” springs to his lips. Yet, immediately he acknowledges that the hour in which he undergoes unimaginably painful death is the very reason that he came. It is through the brutal ignominy of criminal crucifixion that he is to be “glorified”.
How can this be? What sort of glory is it to be “raised up” in this ghastly way? Hebrews provides the answer. “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”. The law of God will never be written on our hearts; we are too selfish and sinful to learn obedience through what we suffer. Yet, salvation is at hand if, as we approach Good Friday, we are willing to be let ourselves be drawn into the mystery of Christ lifted up on the Cross, and so enfolded in the perfection of our humanity that he alone secured.