Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 248: Jeremiah 19-21; Psalm 53; Hebrews 9

Blood, Shed and Cast...
Compared to those of old, those who answer the call to serve God as priests don't see as much blood as our forebears did, not by a long shot. As post-modern age Christians, the closest we get to the idea of "sacrifice" is what happens on the altar on Sunday mornings when our oblations of bread and wine are lifted up and consecrated as the Body and Blood of Christ. For the most part, "sacrifice" means giving something up and accepting the discomfort that comes with it. People surrender portions of their time, the assuaging of appetite or the practice of something they like and call it sacrifice.

That's not what we are talking about today. The sacrifices being offered up today are bound up in the shedding of blood, the rendering of life-for-life. Through Jeremiah, God condemns the practice many of the people of Judah and Israel have of sacrificing to other gods and following ways that are apart from the Covenant. That perpetuation of errant practice is so grievous as to lead God to proclaim that even legitimate, Covenant-bound actions are made null, void and worthless. It doesn't matter how many goats, oxen and lambs are slaughtered, God will not be mollified. It doesn't matter how much blood is dashed against the altar, that won't wash away the sins of the people. It doesn't matter how big the pile of ashes is in the wake of the burning of the bodies of the sacrificed. Judgment is coming, and will be exacted in order for God's justice and balance to again prevail.

Sitting in our chairs, in the relative security of our homes, we forget just how bloody the worship of the ancients was, how intense the experience of sacrifice of that sort is at its core. Our minds balk at the impact that the sights, sounds and smells of worship that must have prevailed. We would even call it "barbaric." The sight and smell of blood, for us today, is reserved for the occasional accident or trauma we might experience. Otherwise, it is set apart from polite society and relegated to the other end of the news feeds, or if related to food production to appropriately isolated abattoirs.

But for Jeremiah, blood was a significant factor in his life. He was proclaiming a nearly irredeemable blood-debt on Israel and Judah for its sins. The destruction that was looming over the nation was imminent. The Babylonians were coming, swords and pikes in hand. Aside from the destruction of Jerusalem, this was going to be a bloody mess. The fortunate were going into exile. The prophet's laments, interspersed among the proclamations of doom, articulate his own personal struggle. He knows the trauma to come, he can see it, smell it and hear it in visions that come to him whether he is awake or asleep. This is the Big Mess. It is going to take a lot of blood, if you will, to clean up....if it ever will be able to be "cleaned up."

Our consolation this morning, in the face of all this carnage, is found in the reading from the letter to the Hebrews. The writer does some remarkable work today for us: the blood-debts of sin we walk with in this life, and which were occasionally expurgated by the old Covenant's rituals and sacrifices, are being fulfilled by the entrance of the one, true High Priest who will enter God's sanctuary and offer, once and for all, the sacrifice of his own life so that the sins of everyone will be cleansed away for all time.

I appreciate those words today more than I have in the past, because in the wake of the Jeremiah readings, Christ's sacrifice is, if you will, a bit less sanitized. Understanding what is it that the priests did in those days, seeing just how powerful their witness was makes the idea that Jesus the Christ took on the role as both lamb and priest to this moment of restoration in our relationship with our God much more impacting, poignant and transformative. When Christ enters the heavenly sanctuary, all the old ways are both fulfilled and rendered obsolete. What remains is an unmediated connection to a God who desires a relationship with us that is immediate and intimate: No more mediation, no more filters. Now, with the blood shed once and for all, we get the opportunity to be the people we are called to become. It is a high calling, but one made ready for us from the beginning of the world.

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