27 January 2011Hebrews 10:19-25
"And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds" (v. 24)
The book of Hebrews provides a useful outline of the religious
practices performed by the Hebrew people. The writer tends to focus
on issues of sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, and reveals how
this contrasts with Jesus' one time sacrifice. Today's passage
returns to this theme, and includes several references to the power
of Jesus' "blood" (verse 19) to forgive wrongdoing.
Another important Hebrew sacrificial ritual that is not directly referenced is the Burnt Offering. It is very poignant and powerful that the stem of the word for Holocaust (olah) in Hebrew means "burnt offering". (Many Jewish people find this association problematic and prefer the term 'Sho'ah', which denotes a catastrophe or disaster.)
Holocaust Memorial Day, which is marked today, is an apposite moment to remember the millions of Jewish people who were murdered alongside other minorities during the Second World War. There is little doubt that this remains one of the most tragic episodes in history, and characterises the most rotten aspects of the human condition. Holocaust Memorial Day is also an apt occasion for all men and women to remember that acts of genocide and racial hatred are tragically not confined to the distant past. The terrible events that took place in Kosovo and Rwanda in the 1990s are clear examples of the human capacity to slide into similar forms of barbarity. As a result, Holocaust Memorial Day is a vital opportunity for everyone to draw on the lessons of the past to make a collective commitment to ensure these tragic events never happen again.
However, it is important to remember that even in the midst of such tragedy, there are stories of hope that inspire. Some of the most powerful of these are accounts of individual bravery and heroism which involved personal sacrifice. Although these accounts cannot redeem what has taken place, they do reveal rays of hope in the midst of catastrophe.
How can we commit ourselves to ensuring that events such as the Holocaust never happen again?
Is it possible to maintain one's faith and integrity in the face of such barbarity? In what way(s)?