Posted on March 3rd, 2013
My first roommate in college was a great guy … when he was sober. But when he drank, he became violent. And one night that violence was turned against me. I was assigned another room, and my former roommate soon left school. A few years later I was surprised to receive a letter from him. He explained that he was in an alcoholic recovery program and as part of the program was reaching out to people hurt by his drinking, to try to make amends. That letter made me very happy, most of all that he was getting the help he needed.
Making amends is part and parcel of the Bible’s teaching on repentance. In today’s reading from Jeremiah, the prophet instructs Jerusalem, “Mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the LORD your God.” Jeremiah’s Hebrew word here translated “mend” is very difficult to put into English. The idea is to make something good. So we might say that somebody “made good” on a promise. If something goes wrong with a product or service we’ve purchased, we just want them to “make it right,” to put things right.
My old roommate sought to put things right, and I gladly forgave him. But what happened couldn’t be undone. And much suffering in this life comes from the memory of things that cannot be put right. There are things we’ve done that cannot be undone. The bell once struck cannot be unrung. Likewise our failure to act, our failure to speak, often cannot be rectified. The moment has passed, we failed our neighbor, and now nothing can be done. Amends cannot truly be made, we have lost the power to make it good, make it right.
Perhaps even worse is living with the sins committed against you. Your father abused you. Your mother mistreated you. Your wife left you. You were taken advantage of sexually. Someone used you for a time to gain influence or money, then discarded you when a better opportunity came along. Someone made a promise and then didn’t even try to keep it. A kid laughed at you on the playground and it still hurts, decades later. You get accused of a horrible deed or having a wicked motivation, and it ruins your day or maybe your year.
How can amends be made? How can it be put right?
“Mend your ways and your deeds,” says the Lord, and we try. We maybe even succeed, a little. We get back to praying and reading the Bible. We try again to be nice, we renew our commitment to giving an offering from our firstfruits rather than our leftovers, we hold our tongue a little better, calm down a little before answering that email, avert our eyes from the forbidden image instead of worshiping what the LORD has withheld.
“Mend your ways and your deeds,” says the LORD, but we can’t mend them – not all the way. We can’t mend them to perfection, as the Lord says, “Be perfect.” We can’t mend them to holiness, as the Lord says, “Be holy.” We can’t mend them to the point of turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, loving our enemies, praying for our slanderers, giving thanks to God when things are at their worst.
And we can’t mend the ways and deeds of others that have harmed us. We can’t mend the broken bones and broken hearts that we’ve suffered, we cannot repair the damage to our reputation, the failures in education. We might soldier on, listen to dear Lady Thatcher’s admonition to not go wobbly, but things cannot be mended, not really, not fully.
The world is broken. Today it’s the sequester, tomorrow there will be another crisis, and anxiety, hyperbole, and cynicism will all increase. We won’t be able to drone strike our way to peace. Catastrophe! The world is getting colder – no, wait: warmer! Chaos! The population is exploding – no, wait: imploding! We’re a mess – not just you and me, but the whole maggot-infested world; and the next sinkhole that opens up might just be beneath us.
No, we cannot make amends, not all the way, not what’s needed.
This is why our Lord Jesus comes. The language of the Gospel gives a vivid picture of our condition: we are imprisoned in the fortress of a strong man. It’s basically North Korea. A tyrant rules, and there is peace there, but it is a peace that permits no freedom and ends in starvation. The strong man, the devil, rules here; momentary pleasures culminate in sickness and strife, decay and the end of life.
There is no escape from this strong man, not from the inside. We willingly accepted his offer and have come under his spell. But into that hell comes One stronger than the strong man. He does it all. He is the victor and wins the battle. He is the therapist who heals. He assumes our debts and pays our bill. He is the Carpenter who mends the broken city, the Love who mends the broken heart, the Man who mends all humanity. He drives the demons away, and tramples down death by His death.
But first we must die – die with Christ so we might rise with Him. Thus we take even the little child, such as Margreta, and join her to Christ’s death by Baptism, as He said. Through that Baptism, Christ Himself says to the unclean spirit, “Depart! Make way for the Holy Spirit.” By that Baptism He removes the guilt of sin and fills her instead with His grace. Then He takes the human being, still broken in body and soul but now in the hospital of the Church – He takes the broken human being and says, “Come, follow Me; we will journey together to death, a journey I have already made, and from there I will mend you completely, mend you fully so that your body lives with Me in resurrection and your soul lives with Me in righteousness.”
And so on that last day, which shall be the new first day of endless Easter, on that day He will say, “Behold, I have mended all things and made them new. I have taken what is wrong and set it right. I have taken what is bad and made it good.”
So that’s who you follow: Jesus, the mender of all things, the one who mends the ways and doings of Adam our first father and all his fallen children. This Jesus is the One David and Heather will, together with us her church family, raise Margreta to follow.
And along this path already trod by Jesus, we will seek to imitate Him by mending our own ways and doings. Seeking forgiveness from those we’ve hurt. Forgiving those who have hurt us. Not having sexual immorality or impurity or covetousness even be named among us. Doing what is proper for saints, not sinners, though we struggle being both.
You baptized ones, run now to His table again. For here He continues to mend you, and so mend also your ways and your deeds.