And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’, and since then has been waiting ‘until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.’ For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds’,
he also adds,
‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews compares and contrasts the daily sacrificial offerings in the Temple with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for the sins of the world. In the Temple sin offerings were made each day – and the writer thinks they were ineffective despite being commanded in the Law – but Jesus’ offering of himself to the Father is effective and was offered just once.
Many contemporary Christians struggle with these ideas of sacrifice for the atonement from sin – the images certainly come from a different world view and a different understanding of faith than is often the case now. But then the URC believes that everytime we celebrate Holy Communion we “show forth Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross” making it present in the here and now (a variant of older ideas linking the Eucharist with sacrifice).
Many contemporary people struggle with ideas of sacrifice generally – not just about ideas of sacrifice in religious worship. A culture which is based on credit means we can have what we want whenever we want it. Gone are the days of our grandparents where they’d save up for things before buying them. The idea of sacrificing something in our lives or in our interests for the good of another or the greater good of society is long gone. But for 10 weeks we stood on our doorsteps and clapped appreciation for people who work in the NHS for little recognition and even less money. Maybe the idea of sacrifice still resonates.
We are all called to participate in Jesus’ sacrifice to offer ourselves to the Creator along with Jesus. We are all called to give sacrificially of our time, our talents, and our money – not as offerings for sin but as a way of changing both ourselves and our world. We are called to point to a different understanding of how to live that, through sacrifice, the Kingdom will come.
Lord Jesus, you offered yourself on the wood of the Cross, that we might find freedom – from sin, destruction, and alienation. Help us to live sacrificially, that we might point to a world of different values, even your coming Kingdom. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston serves with four churches in and around Glasgow.