Paul on Paul – 6th June 2021

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Chirsti); Year B
Hebrews 9:11-15

But now Christ has come, as the high priest of all the blessings which were to come. He has passed through the greater, the more perfect tent, which is better than the one made by men’s hands because it is not of this created order; and he has entered the sanctuary once and for all, taking with him not the blood of goats and bull calves, but his own blood, having won an eternal redemption for us. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer are sprinkled on those who have incurred defilement and they restore the holiness of their outward lives; how much more effectively the blood of Christ, who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit, can purify our inner self from dead actions so that we do our service to the living God.
He brings a new covenant, as the mediator, only so that the people who were called to an eternal inheritance may actually receive what was promised: his death took place to cancel the sins that infringed the earlier covenant.

Thank the Lord for the Feast of Corpus Chirsti – the opportunity to focus on the the source a summit of our faith. But, to truly understand the gift that if the Eucharist – the Real Presense of Jesus in our lives, we have to look at the history of ‘God among the people’…and many books have been written on that subject. But the 2nd Reading this Sunday invites us to peek into it.

The letter is “The Letter to the Hebrews” – it’s audience isn’t a group of pagan people who are creating a new relationship with the Judeo-Christian God; it is a group of “Christian Jews”, who already have a relationship with the LORD, which comes with a history and rules of worship, and rituals and symbols. This letter, written only around 40-50 years after Christ’s death and ressurection, is to help those Jewish people reach a fuller understanding of their traditions in light of the Full realisation of salvation in Jesus Christ.

But what is it that is re-contextualised? The greatest Jewish Symbol of God’s presense with his people was the Ark of the Covenant, in which were the 2 tablets of the Ten Commandments. In the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, God spoke to Moses from the top of the Ark. When the Isrealites were wandering in the dessert, it was the Ark that led them; When they camped, the Ark had its own tent…called ‘The Tabernacle’. And when King Solomon built the Temple in Jereusalem, the Ark was placed in the Holy of Holies – the holiest place in the Temple and in Isreal. The First Book of Kings tells us that when the Ark was placed in the Holy of Holies, the whole room was filled with a cloud of the Lord’s presense.

The only time that anyone was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies was on Yom Kippur or the “Day of Atonement”, and even then only the High Priest was permitted to enter. This was the day where Jews would seek forgiveness of their sins from God – seeking redemption and salvation. He would spend days preparing, ritually washing and being sprinkled with ashes as signs of purification. He would then lead in – not a lamb, which was the usual sarifices seeking sin – but a bull and 2 goats and sacrifice them. One of the goats woudl be prayed over to take on the sins of the people and then led into the wilderness to symboliclly ‘take away the sins’ of the people from Isreal (which is where the word ‘scapegoat’ comes from). He would then sacrifice the other goat and the Bull in atonement, sprinkling their blood over the people gathered outside the Holy of Holies.

So now, with that context in mind – which would have been the real lived expereiences of 1st Century Jewish-Christians reading this letter, the spleandour and wonder of Christ’s scarifice is all the easier to appreciate. When he “…passed through the greater, the more perfect tent, which is better than the one made by men’s hands…”, Christ was not simply performing a ritual or symboliclly acting in place of God – he was not of the created order” but he was truly effecting God’s love! This was not Symbolic, but Real.

He did this not with “…the blood of goats and bull calves, but his own blood, having won an eternal redemption…”. Again, He did not require any creation to help Him, becuase He was the perfect expression of God’s merciful love. The symbolism of the animal’s blood (where in the Jewish tradition, blood is the life-force of a creature) is replaces with the God-Man’s blood – Jesus gives his life-force for the forgiveness of sins. And the blood which was “…sprinkled…[to restore] the holiness of their outward lives“, is replaced by “…the blood of Christ…the perfect sacrifice …[who] can purify our inner self”. This is not symbolic; but Real.

But importantly – the Jewish people were in Covenant with God. They were bound to Him. But, as the writer notes, that Jesus “…brings a new covenant, as the mediator“. A new covenant, between God and His People (the faithful, His Church), brought about and mediated by God himself. Not prophets or priests, but by Christ. He signs the deal in His own Blood to seal it. This is not symbolic; but Real.

And now – with all of that – why woudl the Church want us to ponder this reading on this Feast day? The answer is obvious: we are challenged to recognise God being truly present among us in the Eucharist. Not just a symbol of God’s presense, like the Ark; but as his Real Presense. Not something reserved to only the High Priest (or the Pope) on 1 day a year; but to all of us, as often as we can manage. Not just something that is some sort of outward performance; but which brings about a Real inward transformation of, not only the bread, but ourselves. And not merely a symbol of our relationship with God; but a Real receiption of him in out lives, in our bodies and in our souls. None of this – not the Eucharist, not Christ, not his Sacred Body nor His Precious savign Blood – is symbolic, like what came before him; but Real, just as he was.

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