Tomorrow is Reformation Sunday, and in the church I serve, we will celebrate the eucharist together in each service. Those words of Christ–this cup is the new covenant in my blood–will ring out, and we will hear, again, that we are bound together, one to another, and the whole body to God, by a promise written in blood.
Hebrews talks about blood, reminds us how Moses instructed that blood be used for sprinkling tabernacle, instruments, and even priests. In fact, our writer says, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood (9:22).
I heard a man who led a large cleaning company talk about how difficult it was to get blood out of stuff; he was marveling over the Biblical idea that blood would be used as a means for cleaning. And yet, this is exactly what Hebrews wants us to grasp, although more than carpet and upholstery is in view. Without the shedding of blood, we read, there is no forgiveness.
Blood is necessary because so much has gone wrong. That is, sin has crept in and sullied God’s original pristine design. Restoration is possible, we understand, but it requires blood. And Jesus, we are told, is the one who supplies what is needed.
In my study of glory, I’ve been pondering the matter of atonement, wondering about what it was Jesus did. One of the books that’s shaping my thinking is Razing Hell, where Sharon Baker explains a view of atonement which sees Jesus’ ‘sacrifice’ not as a matter of payment or punishment, but more one of pouring Himself out completely on behalf of those God has forgiven. All have sinned, so all need cleansing, and such deep cleaning occurs only when the blood is applied.
It sounds like an extension of the OT practice, where animal blood was spattered here and there–but Hebrews’ author is quick to point out important differences. He is building to a crescendo, about to tell us that the law was prepatory to something greater, a shadow of something more substantial (10:1). But for now, it is enough to mention how the frequency of those animal sacrifices indicated their limited effect. In sharp contrast, Jesus’ single sacrifice was both necessary for and sufficient in doing away with sin (Hebrews 9:26, and again in 9:28). It is a breathtaking claim.
One could go on and on, but instead, I’ll stop with a connected, though tangential, point–noting that in performing the work of cleaning, Jesus occupies not only the role of priest, but also of, for lack of a better word, janitor.
This church I’m going to tomorrow–we went there some months ago with friends who remarked on the condition of the building. It’s an old place–close on two centuries, but it has aged gracefully. It’s obvious people here care, our friends said, and as I’ve come to know more of those who are part of this church, I can vouch for that, even as I’m growing to respect all it takes to keep a building like this in good order. We’re prone to look down our nose at custodial service, but who of us does not appreciate when this is done well, or miss it when omitted? And when the work is done by those who care about putting things to rights, who render service gladly, well then…