XXV Pentecost

November 11, 2018

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

God remains the same.  Human beings change.  Those are very blunt statements, but I believe them to be true.  In the Letter to the Hebrews, it makes just such a bold statement:  “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.”

I wanted to begin this way because I would like to us to think about the relationship that we have with God in Jesus Christ.  But to get at that relationship, I want to look first at the way in which ancient people understood their relationship with God.

Let me first say that I want to deal with a monotheistic understanding of God.  That is, that we believe that there is one God, not many gods.  There are still religions today which believe in multiple gods.  But our understanding of God is that God is one.

The first religion to understand God as one is Judaism.  Indeed, the Chosen People of God were surrounded by cultures that believed in multiple gods – who were polytheistic.  But the Hebrew people, the Chosen People of God were the first to believe that there is one God.

Christians come from that tradition, so I would like to focus on that monotheistic tradition.  But what about the relationship between God and human beings?

Although Judaism is the first monotheistic religion, they had some things in common with polytheistic religions.  One of those common elements was the idea of sacrifice.

The idea behind sacrifice is that God requires the human being to sacrifice something – usually an animal – to atone for their sins.  It was thought that the blood of the animal sacrifice pleased God and that through this sacrifice God would forgive the sins of humans.

Animal sacrifices were also used for other reasons, some of which were happy occasions – such as the sacrifice that Mary and Joseph made when they brought the baby Jesus to the temple.    We read about this in the Gospel of Luke:

“And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.’”  We have a picture of this in one of the windows in the Church.

We can see in this example that during Jesus’ lifetime, Judaism was a sacrificial religion.  To be clear, it is not longer such a religion – but at the time it was.

It is important to understand that at the time in which Jesus was on earth, that the people who heard His teaching and, subsequently the teaching of those who followed Jesus, had this understanding of sacrifice.

Why is all of this important?  Why am I taking the time to talk about all of this?  Because it is important in the understanding of the lesson read today from the Letter to the Hebrews. 

It is called the Letter to the Hebrews, which means that it is a letter written to people who have this understanding of the relationship between God and human beings.  These are people who at this time would have sacrificed animals in the temple, or accepted that temple priests would sacrifice animals to please God.

It is in this context that we can have a better understanding of what the Letter to the Hebrews is trying to convey.  It is trying to convey the truth that sacrifice was no longer needed because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. 

Jesus is both priest and sacrifice.  This is represented in the Christus Rex behind me.  If you look closely at it, you will find Jesus dressed as a priest, but also with a crown on His head.  Jesus is priest, sacrifice, and king.  Jesus is all of these things.

With all of this in mind, listen again to the words from the letter to the Hebrews read this morning:

“For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.   Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.   And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”  

As we approach the Season of Advent, may we be people who await the coming of the Lord with eagerness.  May we be drawn into deeper thanksgiving for the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross.  And may we be firm in our belief that “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.” AMEN.