The Letter to the Hebrews was written to help and to encourage a group of Christians who had lost their way, who were losing heart, and who were about to fall away from the faith. It is a work full of help and encouragement, which speaks to us, in the Church of England, today. It encourages us, it allows us to say with Job that we know that our Redeemer lives, and that we can believe and trust in him, and in what he has done for us.
The problem is one of sin, where we as humans disobey God’s law, when we do things which separate us from Him. The purpose of sacrifice then is to make amends, to restore our relationship with God. It is a relationship rooted by means of a covenant, a covenant between God and humanity, which defines our relationship.
The first covenant is given on Mt Sinai, to Moses, with the giving of the Law, the Ten Commandments. It is a covenant from which the people of Israel, God’s chosen people have fallen away. The new covenant is likewise given outside the camp, upon the hill of Calvary, where Jesus Christ as both priest and victim offers himself upon the altar of the Cross. This new covenant restores the relationship between God and humanity. It shows us in the clearest possible terms how much God loves us – that God pays the debt which we cannot. He restores us, and makes it possible for us to love God and one another. Unlike the blood of bulls and goats which must be offered again and again, here we have a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, for the sins of all time.
The Church, as the Body of Christ, continues this one perfect sacrifice by re-presenting it, by making it present at the altar, so that we may participate in the joy and worship of heaven. We can be strengthened by it, strengthened to live lives of self-giving love, after the example of Christ who gave himself for love of us. We are freed by it, to lose our lives in the service of God and one another. This then is how the church is to live, how it is to reflect the glory of heaven which was shown on earth when Christ died for us.
We are to love God and one another. Not just the people it is easy to love, but everyone, even and especially those it is difficult to love, our enemies. We are to love and serve one another so that OUR lives may mirror that of Christ. We can do this because Christ loved us first, because he gave himself, because he gave himself for us, because he has restored our relationship with God and each other, because there is a new covenant which is far superior to the earlier one.
Thus, the Church can truly change the World, by living lives of selfless love, by offering the world an alternative to the ways of sin and selfishness, nourished by the word of God, strengthened by the sacrament of His Body and Blood, to live out God’s love in our lives.
This is the message of the Gospel; good news for everyone, made possible by Christ, by his Incarnation, by his life, by his death and resurrection. It’s the greatest news of human history, so let us live it with joy, and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.