Monday, April 3

Sermon 5th Sunday in Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 4:14-5:10
John 12:20-33
We are nearing the end of Lent. As we have gathered around Scripture and Table this season we have been wandering in the desert wrestling with what God does, where God appears, and our responses to God. We have been confronted with the mystery of God’s grace and the mystery of community. We have done all this to prepare ourselves to receive anew the central event of our faith: Christ’s death and Resurrection. As we near the end of Lent Hebrews calls us to hold fast to our faith because we have a Great High Priest, Jesus Christ.

What does it mean for Christ to be our high priest in terms of our life and world? My own problem is that I know this is true. I do not remember a time when I didn’t understand that because of Jesus I could approach the “throne of grace”. Even so I struggle with relating Jesus as High Priest to the world I live in; a world without priests and sacrifices, a world that does not know or understand the language of sin, a world that speaks of rights and justice and self-determination and may speak of social evils but doesn’t speak of personal sin.

If we are to make the necessary connections I think we first need to stop and uncover what lies behind Hebrews assertion of Jesus as High Priest. We also need to take a look at the possible meaning of sin. What is sins effects and ultimate consequences of our sins. Once we have examined these two things then we can return to the significance for us of Jesus High Priesthood and thus the significance of the central event of our faith, Christ death on the Cross and his Resurrection.
You may or may not be ware that High Priests were an important feature of Israelite religion and an essential component of the Covenant God mad with Israel after their exodus from Egypt. Moses’ brother, Aaron, was the first High Priest. God mandated that one of the tribes of Israel, tribe of Levi were to be priests. Aaron and Moses were of the tribe of Levi. Thus the book of Leviticus describes the offerings and sacrifices as well as how Aaron the first high priest was ordained. However, Hebrews is primarily focused on the role of high priest and the offerings and sacrifices made on one day, the day of Atonement.

The other thing Hebrews has in mind is the Tabernacle of Tent of meeting where the above rites of sacrifice and offering took place. There were two basic parts and outer and inner tent. The innermost room was known as the Holy of Holies. In the Holy of Holies there was the Ark of the Covenant that had two golden Seraphim with wings outstretched. This was seen as the place where God’s glory rested on Earth in the midst to of God’s people. The Ark of the Covenant was also known as the mercy seat. The catch of all this was that no one was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies except for the High Priest on the day of Atonement when he would sprinkle the Mercy Seat with the blood of the sac rife for his sins and the sins of Israel. This is what Hebrews has in mind as it talks about Jesus the high priest.

However Hebrews also has in mind another priesthood that is before the covenant of Mount Sinai the priest King of Salem Melchizedek. He is an obscure figure and is important for two reasons. Firs since the messiah was to be form the kingly line of David and Jesus was from this line, according the Covenant of Sinai Jesus was a king but not priest. But Melchizedek shows precedent for a royal priesthood. Second Melchizedek is said to be a priest of the most high before the Levitical priesthood is not the only priesthood ordained by God. These two points are perhaps unimportant for us except that it is theologically significant that Christ be both Priest and King.

All of this, the priesthood the sacrifices all presupposes a notion of sin and sins. But how should we understand sin fundamentally? A key to the answer to this question is how Hebrews understands Jesus’ sinlessness. Hebrews asserts was tested in every way like us but without sins. This being without sin is exemplified in his perseverance at the point of suffering and death by being obedient the Father even in undergoing suffering and death. As such Jesus Christ the High Priest always had access to God and never needed to offer a sacrifice for himself, but we do need a high priest because there is a gap and estrangement between God and us, which is repaired by the sacrifice of a high priest. So the sinless state is one of faithful obedience and unbroken relationship. Sin I would then propose is fundamentally the reality of estrangement from God and ourselves which is then manifest in various forms of disobedience and faithlessness, that is particular sins.

I recently saw again the film by Jim Jarmush, Coffee and Cigarettes. If you haven’t seen it the film is essentially a montage of eleven short films about encounters over coffee and cigarettes (sometimes tea) in restaurant and cafe’s. the move opens with Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni meeting in a cafe. The encounter is awkward. Steven keeps insisting he be called Steven and Roberto Benigni keeps calling him Steve. They never quite connect, though Steven does give Roberto his dentist appointment. The short ends with Steven sitting alone, isolated with the sounds of the cafĂ©. One is left wondering if Roberto and Steven ever actually connect. This pattern of meeting and attempting to connect without much success is repeated in each short. The drinking coffee together seems to represent this attempts at connect the never fully happens. Even the final short “Champagne” which is a very intimate scene of two old friends and coworkers on a coffee break follows this pattern. The friends are talking to each other one friend is talking about grand things, in comparison to what is before them; the other friend is mystified by this line of conversation but plays along without actually understanding. Finally the first friend says he needs to take a nap. His friend says that he only has about only 2 minutes for a nap. The friend nods off, and the friend tries to wake them but the fringed doesn’t wake up. One is left again wondering about the connections made and strained.

From the perspective of Hebrews and Christianity this movie is about sin. We fail to connect we are estranged and alienated and isolated because of sin. Sometime we can trace this estrangement back to particular acts or attitudes we have or have done personal; sometimes we simply find ourselves in the this state as though it were the air we breathe- in the system of government and economy or patterns of family relationships and not due to individual choices we’ve made. This is part of the brilliance of Coffer and Cigarettes, for at times you can identify the source of the estrangement between the people at times the isolation is simply there like the muse that plays in the background at all restaurants and cafe.

Hebrews affirms that only in Jesus Christ as our high priest is this estrangement repaired. Only; in Christ is rue connection made because jess Christ was fully and truly one with us as human beings an tiredly one with God. This is why the doctrines of the incarnation two natures in one person Jesus Christ are not abstract ideas but of deep relevance to our lives. Only the one who was most truly human because he was completely united to God and humanity simultaneously can show us the way to true community and the way out of a world of isolation estrangement an injustice.

This is why Hebrews enjoins us to hold fast to our confession and that in holding fast an in our prayer we have access to that place that only one person once a year could enter. By clinging to Christ our high priest we are joined to God through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross where he took into himself and suffered the consequences of all the estrangement isolation injustice and abuse of the world.
Every Sunday in our worship around Word and Table we cling to Christ and boldly enter the Holy of Holies, for it is Christ who presides at the Table as bread and wine are blessed and Christ gives himself to us in that bread and wine, that we may remain steadfast in the faith and remain joined with him thus uniting us to God and each other. This is possible having removed all barriers through his death and resurrection. But as Hebrews implies we can choose to live according to this reality of our worship in our daily lives holding fast to our faith or we can choose when we leave her today to live as though Coffee and Cigarettes an alienation and estrangement are the last word. Yet even if we do loose sight of Christ and our faith Hebrews calls us back for Jesus is human and understand our weakness and have once for all removed the barriers. Since we have such a Great High priest we can come again and again to the throne of grace where there is always already forgiveness, strength, and reconciliation. So come today to the Table with confidence knowing we have a great high priest who unites us to God and each other even when we lose sight of this and find ourselves estranged and in sin.