Tuesday 17th November Hebrews – The Earthly and Heavenly Sanctuaries
Hebrews 9: 1 – 22
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tent was constructed, the first one, in which were the lampstand, the table, and the bread of the Presence; this is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a tent called the Holy of Holies. In it stood the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which there were a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat. Of these things we cannot speak now in detail.
Such preparations having been made, the priests go continually into the first tent to carry out their ritual duties; but only the high priest goes into the second, and he but once a year, and not without taking the blood that he offers for himself and for the sins committed unintentionally by the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed as long as the first tent is still standing. This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time comes to set things right.
But 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), 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. 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, 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!
For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. Where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Hence not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment had been told to all the people by Moses in accordance with the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the scroll itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that God has ordained for you.’ And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
Ponder the image of the Holy Place from which there is the awesome possibility of being allowed into the Holy of Holies.
Maybe the Holy Place is a loved place of worship. We give it time, energy and money because it matters to the congregation and is a sign of the presence of God in the community. But we also remember those precious moments when, although sat in a very familiar place, some music, or a Bible verse, or an especially rich silence took us beyond the familiar into a stunning sense of the Emmanuel – God with us – that felt like a glimpse of the Holy of Holies. The memory sustains us when church life is difficult or simply tedious.
Such memories may also help us believe that the best of this life, even the Holy moments, are only the merest of hints of what God has in store when we go beyond the curtain of Death; go into the Holy of Holies, not accessible while we are constrained in human bodies. In contrast to the crematorium curtain that hides the coffin before it is destroyed, this curtain is thrown open to reveal the full life ahead. Without that, the writer reminds us, the Holy Place is a con.
But the Good News comes at a price. The blood of animal sacrifices was a different sort of hint of what was to come. God did not require Abraham to shed the blood of his son Isaac; for the time being a ram would serve. Yet animal sacrifices were never going to be enough to establish our relationship with God as fully as God desired. Only when his own Son’s blood was shed was the Holy of Holies opened to all.
Lord God We thank you for the Holy Places that we cherish. May we tend them so that others might find their refuge and hear their challenge. We thank you for the special moments when we have known you close to us. May they equip us for the hard parts of today. We thank you for your Son’s sacrifice to open the curtain. May I live as someone who knows your gift.
John Ellis is Synod Area Leader for West Kent and East Sussex and Secretary of Capel United Church