2015 Passion Sunday
Hebrews 10. 11-18
Many in the western world do their work sitting down. I was sitting down when writing this sermon - I am aware that from time to time I should get up and move around - that from time to time I should do some more strenuous exercise. - and then I would be fitter and healthier. So today, often when we stand up it is because our work is over and we can be off to do something else.
For much of the world though, and indeed for much of history, the act of sitting down meant that you had finished your work and not that you were beginning it. In a world where most people laboured in fields or in energetic crafts like building, only a very few sat down to work. Most people stood to work and sat to rest. This is the point which the author of the letter to the Hebrews was making, contrasting the priests of his day who served under the old covenant offering regular sacrifices in the Temple and the position that Jesus has now taken having finished his work. The priests in the Temple continue to stand for their daily duties; but Jesus has finished, completed his work and now sits at the right hand of God. Jesus doesn't have to offer sacrifices any more; he's done it and it is complete - his final word from the cross was the cry 'It is finished'!
The writer has previously quoted from Psalm 110 when talking about the priest, Melchizadek of old, and now he returns to the psalm as he takes up the theme of the Messiah sitting at God's right hand until God makes his enemies his footstool. Here in Chapter 10 the writer brings together his previous strands of thought and begins to weave them in to the bigger picture that he has been holding in his mind.
Jesus is the messiah, the truly human being who is also the great high priest after the order of Melchizadek, the one who has offered the perfect sacrifice through which the sin forgiving new covenant with God has been finally established.
Using the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old testament, the Law and the prophets, the author shows how God's eternal purposes are fulfilled in the person Jesus and that the only place to be now is with him. No longer should you be with the old covenant that points to the messiah - but you should now align yourself with the Messiah, Jesus who fulfils all of the hopes and dreams of the Hebrew nation.
When we look to see where this Jesus is now, to see what he is doing, we discover that he no longer needs to make sacrifice over and over again, like those repeated sacrifices of the Temple, nor is he continually presenting has sacrifice to his father, as though he need to repeatedly enter the heavenly sanctuary. Yes, Jesus continues to offer intercession for us in the heavenly sanctuary - he is there on our behalf - but he is no longer at work; no longer offering sacrifice. That was done, once and for all and is finished and is complete. It should be a comfort to us. Jesus, in his dying has brought us complete forgiveness and has established God's new covenant with us. There is nothing more to be added to it and it does not need to be repeated. When, as Christians we look for assurance of our forgiveness, we don't look at anything we can do, or indeed anything the church does, nor at anything that Christian priests can do. We look back too those events just outside Jerusalem on that dark Friday afternoon,, and we thank God for what was accomplished there, fully and finally on our behalf.
I don't understand it and find it hard to comprehend it - the magnitude of God's own love for me, for us - but I trust it and know in my heart it is done.
As R S Thomas the Welsh priest and poet wrote:
Who said to the trout,
You shall die on Good Friday
To be food for a man
And his pretty lady? It was I, said God,
Who formed the roses
In the delicate flesh
And the tooth that bruises.
This is the mystery that we shall gather to ponder and to celebrate in just a few weeks time as we enter into the passion and death of our Lord.
Our writer of the Letter to the Hebrews simply wants to leave us in no doubt that Jesus sacrifice, the atonement he makes, was a single moment in history which accomplished our forgiveness and does not need to be, indeed, cannot be repeated. Christianity is not a religion that simply goes around in circles and ends up at the same point. But rather, as Christians we believe and trust in a God who has acted decisively, once and for all time in our history. Being a Christian is being able to celebrate that truth, what it means that God has dealt with our sins and has established his new covenant with us. He is our God, who came and gave his life for us.