A sin is a sin because it leaves a wound in the spirit of our victim. That extends not only to other people, but to God himself. In both Genesis and the history following entry into the Promised Land, Yahweh cries out against the agony of his association with the people of Israel.
The Law was intended to guide the Chosen People into a path of righteousness – a way of living that kept sin from entering into our relationships. The challenge, of course, was that Israel was surrounded by people that lacked that same discipline. The relationship with God was insufficient to protect them from the sins of others.
In the books after return from exile, a common exhortation among the prophets is that the Gentiles must be allowed into the covenant with God. This flew in the face of Hebrew tradition, which passed the heritage through mothers. But it was intended to entrain a process that would eventually manifest in the spread of righteousness across the face of the earth.
And then comes Jesus to bear the sins of the world.
In common theology, this is seen as an act of retribution. In Christ Alone expresses this with a beautiful gratitude:
Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live
But this is to think with the heart of men, not with the heart of God. Jesus tells so many parables of evil-doing that is forgiven by the grace of God. In every case, those stories reveal that it is not retribution that God seeks, but reconciliation.
The truth is approached in the last two lines of the stanza, particularly when seen in the light of Jesus’s promise to those that suffer [Matt. 11:28-29]:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
When offered, this was almost certainly seen as a promise to the few that heard, but on the cross it became true for all willing to receive the healing grace of the father. Jesus opened his heart to all of the sin of humanity, each of us finding a place in the tissue of his compassion. The sun shone its light into its chambers, and brought healing there.
This surrender has its dark side: Jesus, bearer of a perfect, spotless heart, allowed sinners to take up residence in it. He embraced the world in his love, knowing that to love is to give power to others. While his will washed against the tide of sin, he knew that some would use that power to hurt others – turning his power against his own heart. Thus his declaration of its humility: he knows that his heart cannot heal us without empowering us to create suffereing.
To complete the work, then, his heart will be broken: some among those he loves will have to be cast out into the darkness. As he says about the power of loving in the parable of the talents [Matt. 13:12]:
Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.
But for those that have, to “pick up your cross” is not to bear the burden of sin. It is something far more joyful and hopeful. It is to offer yourself as a tool for the healing of others. It is to allow the love that fills you to pass through you to those that suffer with fear, filling them until they, too, fear no longer.
It may seem unfair, to be required to heal those that hurt us. Only keep in sight the outcome of his agony carried for these millennia (again from In Christ Alone):
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ