21 October 2020Hebrews 9:15, 24-28
For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. (v. 24)
Occasionally artists produce striking images and sounds, the like of which have never been known before. But artists also cite images or turns of phrase from their predecessors or from the world around us. Often quotations are interpreted or developed, not simply repeated. Through these techniques artists stretch their imaginations and ours, in a search for truth and authenticity.
The author of Hebrews saw the Jewish scriptures as a mine of rich images needing to be recovered or re-minted to make the Christian message compelling. Their core mission was to spell out how, in Christ, a new era had begun in relations between God and humanity. For example:
A familiar image fulfilled. A ‘new covenant’ (see Jeremiah 31:31-34) has been launched. The 'first' (or old) covenant was established at Mount Sinai, where Israel received God's promise of life through obedience to the Law. In the new covenant, God promises redemption (full and free forgiveness) and an “eternal inheritance”, for “those who are called” (v. 15).
An image stretched almost to breaking point. Christians have Christ (like a high priest) as their permanent representative in heaven (an eternal holy shrine), speaking and praying to God for us, “on our behalf”, But Christ has this role by virtue of one historical moment: his death on the cross, which was a unique and sufficient achievement to deal for ever with the depths of human sin. Christ is both sacrifice and high priest.
An image expanded to a new conclusion. The high priest annually, on the Day of Atonement, offered sacrifice in secret. Outside, the people waited expectantly for him to emerge. This would confirm their cleansing. They welcomed him back with acclaim. So Christ will appear “a second time” (v. 28) “to save” – to transfer the redeemed people of the new covenant on earth to join the praise of God in heaven.
- What painting, poem, sculpture, piece of music or any other art form fires your Christian imagination? How does it do this? Have you shared your experience with other members of your congregation; and given attention to what inspires them?
- In Christian worship the cross holds central place. How, in your experience, is this most meaningfully presented, in words and signs?
- How does your congregation express in practical ways what it means to be ‘people of the new covenant’?