26 October 2015Hebrews 9:2-3, 11-14
“The blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, [will] purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God.” (v. 14)
Psalm: Psalm 118:1-18
The author of Hebrews wrote for readers who could relate to a world of animal sacrifices, ritual impurity and cultic priests. We are far from that. But by an immense leap of the imagination we can recover a little of what the writer intends. For Hebrews appeals to images and ideas in the Old Testament that spelled out how the people of Israel, liberated from slavery in Egypt, were to worship God as they meandered through the wilderness for 40 years. (For the detail, read Exodus 25 and 37).
What took place in the mobile shrine that Israel erected wherever they camped becomes a foil for the Christian message. A poor quality copy of an art work is replaced by the original! What was temporary and repetitive was replaced by something eternal and permanent. What dealt only with ritual defilement and breaches of cultic rules was replaced with the complete ("perfect" (v. 11)) transformation of individual human hearts ('purifying the conscience' (v. 14)).
The outcome is a new people of God living in communion with God (and the angels in heaven): in worship they celebrate the gift of becoming inwardly at one with God; and they lead holy lives pleasing to God.
How was that achieved? God was the author of this spiritual reformation. God's own Spirit filled and guided the life of Christ (verse 14). The climax of Christ's ministry was his death on the cross - an act of total self-sacrifice which once and for all opened up the possibility of complete harmony between God and humanity. Christ was both high priest and the sacrificed victim. What Christ achieved at Calvary was affirmed by God: to extend the imagery being used, Christ was worthy to present his act of sacrificial love in the eternal shrine of heaven. There is no further need for animal sacrifices managed by the levitical priests.
- What does the word "redemption" (v. 12) mean for you?
- "Worship the living God" (v. 14). Drawing on your own experience, what is the most important change that would enhance Christian worship in your congregation Sunday by Sunday?
- Many today assert that not only is ancient sacrificial religion alien nonsense, but so is the Christian message - one martyr (out of thousands in the Roman Empire) whose death changed human possibilities in every age and culture. So what in your experience are the creative starting points for conversations today which make faith credible and attractive to people who have had no contact with the Church?