32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The second reading at Mass often gets missed in a sermon so I though it might be worth while looking a little more closely at these 4 verses from chapter 9 of the letter to the Hebrews. Especially since Hebrews can seem strange if we are unfamiliar with Jewish practises of the time.
We begin with “It was not as though Christ had entered a man-made sanctuary which was only modelled on the real one.”
The man-made sanctuary is the Temple in Jerusalem the sacred place where the Priests went to meet God and to offer Him Sacrifice in atonement for sin. As the passage continues we read that it is not the temple Christ enters rather “It was heaven itself, so that he could appear in the actual presence of God on our behalf”.
The priests entered the presence of God in the temple but Jesus is already in the presence of God, at the heart of God, no one can be closer for he is God. And yet the text says he can “appear in the actual presence of God on our behalf” for he is also a man like us in every way but sin.
Then we read “And he does not have to offer himself again and again, like the high priest going into the sanctuary year after year with the blood that is not his own”
When the Jewish priests came to the Temple they offered the blood of animals in sacrifice for sins - a sacrifice which had to be repeated, renewed, each year. But Christ who is God offers the sacrifice of his own blood, shed on the cross. Christ Jesus is himself the eternal sacrifice. And unlike the priests in the temple Christ, as we read “made his appearance once for all, now at the end of the last age, to do away with sin by sacrificing himself”.
The death of Jesus is an historical event, he became a man and he died on a particular day, 2000 years ago - but as the text says it also happened “once for all – now at the end of this last age”. The event of Jesus’ death on the cross is ever present. “Men die only once” says the text and Christ in his human nature dies only once. But the person who dies is God and so that act, that sacrifice is eternal. It cannot be bound by time or history. We are taught this in the accounts of the resurrection when the Risen Christ still has the marks of the nails in his hands and feet and takes those marks with him to heaven.
The death of Jesus brings about the end of time, we are waiting now, not for any new act by Christ but simply for the visible fulfilment of what he has done, as we read “he offers himself only once to take the faults of many on himself, and when he appears a second time it will not be to deal with sin but to reward with salvation those who are waiting for him”.
At Holy Mass it is not that Jesus dies again and is offered to God again, but at every Holy Mass the risen Christ is present and the sacrifice He offered is for ever part of him since it is his own blood he offers, He is the sacrifice for our sins. Christ risen from the dead, bearing the marks of his passion, is an eternal self offering of love at the heart of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, an offering offered by one who is truly God and truly man.
At the Holy Mass we proclaim that the Lord Jesus Christ is present and therefore the eternal sacrifice offered on Calvary for all time is also present because the risen Christ and his sacrifice cannot be separated and at mass by God’s grace we take part in that sacrifice.