Monday, April 7, 2014

Entering Holiness

Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 6th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, MT
Rev. Dr. Arthur A. Just, Guest Preacher
Hebrews 9:11-15    Entering Holiness 

Greetings in this Fifth Sunday in Lent from President Lawrence Rast and the faculty and staff of Concordia Theological Seminary.  It’s an honor to be with you this morning, and later today for the topic “The Sunday Service and the Mission of God.”  And to be with your pastor and his wife.  Pr. Warner is a former student, and it’s wonderful to see them both again.

Today’s lessons place us in the center of salvation history, which means to say, in Jerusalem, in the temple, in the place of God’s holiness.   Even the Old Testament lesson is about the temple, for the place where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac was Mt. Moriah, and when Solomon built the temple, he built it on top of Mt. Moriah.  So at the very place where Abraham was going to shed the blood of  his son Isaac, he instead, of course, shed the blood of a lamb.  Solomon built a temple on the spot where priests would now shed the blood of many lambs as a foretaste of the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 

That’s how John’s Gospel begins.  With John the Baptist declares of Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

So God provided a lamb for Abraham, and in Jesus, a lamb for the world and for us.  So the place of the temple, Mt. Moriah, is called “The Lord will provide.”  And he has provided for you, in the supper here prepared for you – body and blood -- for the forgiveness of all your sins.

So the world of Abraham and Isaac, of Jesus, and of the Jews in today’s Gospel who said Jesus had a demon, their world was defined by the purity code -- who was clean or unclean, who was worthy or unworthy, who was holy or unholy.  For the Jews, to be clean was to be a true child of Abraham.  And they knew that in Jesus all of this was being challenged.  For not only was Jesus claiming that Abraham was his father, Jesus was going further than anyone had ever gone before -- he was claiming that God was his Father and that he, Jesus, was God’s only begotten Son, and that he was present in the world to make things holy as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

That is why the theme of our lessons today is holiness, specifically, entering holiness.  For that is the goal of our Lenten pilgrimage.  To journey with Jesus to the altar of his cross and to watch how in the most horrific, shameful, unclean deaths imaginable -- the death of a criminal -- God would cleanse the world of its sin, making it holy.  We enter this holiness today -- in hearing God’s word and receiving his body and blood.  The six weeks of Lent are nothing more and nothing less than a prelude to this reality: the celebration at Easter that Jesus Christ, the High Priest of the good things to come, has entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his blood.

Jesus enters the Most Holy Place by blood.  His blood.  Not the blood of bulls and goats, not the blood of Isaac whom Abraham was ready to sacrifice at God’s command, but the blood of Christ, Lamb of God, pure and holy.  And Jesus must shed his blood to make right what has gone so terribly wrong.  What was so right by God’s creative hand in that first Garden, became so wrong when our first parents ate of the forbidden fruit. Jesus must make right what had gone wrong.  And he can only do this through the shedding of his blood.
Blood is necessary to make whole what has been broken -- to make clean what is unclean -- to make holy what is unholy.  The Jews thought that Jesus was a threat to them because they could see that he was from God, that he was here to make right what has gone wrong.  But they could not bear to hear his word because, as Jesus said, their father was not God, it was not even Abraham.  Their father was the devil, who was unclean, unholy, a liar.

The tragedy of our world is that it is no different than their world.  Like their world, ours is broken by sin, death, and the devil.  Everywhere you turn, something is broken: marriages, parishes, nations, families, institutions.  It is our nature to break and destroy.  Our world is broken at our own hands, every time we try to make things whole we make things worse.

Hebrews tell us how God makes whole what is broken: “But Christ having come as a High Priest of the good things to come . . . by his own blood entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” This is his testament to us as the Mediator of a new covenant.

And so Jesus Christ must be the High Priest of the good things to come. His temple is a hill outside Jerusalem; his altar a wooden cross planted in a rock pile on that hill; his grave a tomb in a nearby garden.  Passersby see hanging on the tree a Galilean carpenter’s son. And then they read the sign, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  But this is no ordinary Nazarene.  Jesus, King, is both victim and priest – Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world – High Priest entering the Most Holy Place.

And this High Priest has one final liturgy over which he must preside. A liturgy that accompanies his making right what had gone wrong.  And so Jesus intones this litany for God and man over his own flesh as Paschal victim on the altar of Golgotha.

The Paschal Lamb without spot has now been offered to God.  His blood sprinkles all creation and sanctifies it.  A creation that had gone wrong had now been made right -- lepers are cleansed, paralytics are healed, the blind see, sinners are forgiven, demons flee, consciences are purged from dead works, and the dead rise up and walk around the holy city.  The new creation has arrived.

The temple curtain tears open -- the Holy of Holies is laid bear.  No more sacrifices need to be made.  No more blood of bulls and goats. Separation from God’s holiness has ended.  God’s blood is poured out. Access to God’s holiness is through the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Mediator of a new covenant – a covenant of his blood.

Entering into his Most Holy Place – into heaven itself -- we enter by his body broken, his blood poured out: “Take eat, this is my body, given for you.  Take drink, this cup is the new testament in my blood, poured out for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.” His liturgy of death is now our liturgy of life. A world that had gone wrong over forbidden fruit is now made right at the banquet of the Lamb in which our host is our food -- Paschal victim is now our Paschal bread and cup of Paradise.  These are the good things to come from Jesus Christ, our High Priest.  In the words of T. S. Eliot:

            “The dripping blood our only drink,
            The bloody flesh our only food:
            In spite of which we like to think
            That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood --
            Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.”[1]

[1] T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets.

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