From the Epistle lesson for Saturday in the week of Easter 7
11 When Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation),
12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified,
14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
Oh, how I wish that the author of Hebrews and his fellow New Testament writers had steered away from the language of blood sacrifice! I know that they were trying to make sense of the death of Jesus and to make sense, somehow, of the earthly death of the one they believed to be the Messiah within the framework of the foundational Jewish faith. If they had to portray Jesus’ execution as a religious sacrifice, could they not have rested their argument on the observation of the Psalmist rather than the practice of the Temple priesthood? Could they not have remembered, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17) And again, “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.” (Ps 69:30-33) Couldn’t they have looked to Isaiah’s prophecy recalling the psalms, “Thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Is 57:15) They could have, but they didn’t. The language of blood sacrifice made sense to them in their time and place, and they left it up to us to make sense of it in our time and place. We must read it together with the Psalms and Isaiah’s prophecy, and understand it and Christ’s death in ways that illuminate our lives today. We can read it as metaphor; we can read it as the language of a former age; we can interpret it how we may; but we cannot reject it, as uncomfortable as we may be with it. But, oh, how I wish they had steered away from it!
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