Second Reading (C): Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23
Standing In the Presence of God
9:24 Christ did not enter a Temple built by people. He did not go into a mere copy. No, he went into heaven itself. Now he stands before God just for us!
25 He did not offer himself over and over, like the high priest who enters the Temple every year to offer the sacrifice of an animal. 26 If this were true, he would have to suffer over and over since the beginning of time! In the end, however, he showed everyone his sacrifice of forgiveness just once.
27 People die only once, then God judges them. 28 In the same way, Christ bore the sins of many when he died. But he will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who wait for his return.
10:19 So, my friends, let's go into God's Temple with the blood of Jesus. 20 He created a new and living way to enter through the Temple curtain, which is his flesh. 21 He is now the great priest over God's people. 22 So, we should approach God with sure hearts full of faith. Our hearts have been sprinkled clean of a bad conscience. Water has washed our bodies. 23 So, we should never bend in our hope. For the one God has promised us to come will not let us down.
9:24 For CHRIST did not enter a handmade holy (place), a corresponding type of the true (one), but into heaven itself, now visible before the face of God on our behalf. 25 (It was) not so that HE might offer himself time after time, as the high priest enters the holy (place) year after year with the blood of another (animal), 26 since then it would be necessary for HIM to suffer often from the foundation of the world. But, HE made (HIMSELF) clearly seen one (time) at the full end of the age for the forgiveness of sins through HIS sacrifice. 27 And, just as it is laid in store for men to die one time, but after this judgement, 28 thus as well for CHRIST having been offered to bear the sins for many will appear a second (time) without (regard for the status of) sin, for (those) awaiting salvation.
10:19 Then, having boldness, brothers, (to go) into the entrance of the holy (place) in the blood of JESUS, 20 which HE renewed a fresh and living way through the veil, which is HIS flesh, 21 and (HE is) a great priest over the house of God, 22 we should come with a true heart in full assurance of faith, (our) hearts having been sprinkled from a evil conscience, the body having been washed clean. 23 We should hold to our confession of unbending hope, for faithful is the (ONE) having been promised...
What is the distance between heaven and earth? While the distance cannot be quantified, many ancient people thought they could shorten the distance through mimicry. If they could imitate the worship in heaven, they thought, they could come closer to God.
The author of the Hebrews played off this logic to show its futility. At the same time he used it to advance his teachings about Christ.
Most likely, the author wrote his homily after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (circa 70 AD). Jewish Christians (his audience) asked a simple question. If the Temple in Jerusalem represented the definitive dwelling place for the divine on earth, why did God allow its destruction? Had he given up on his people?
In another section of the homily, he answered that question by comparing the cult of the Temple with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Now, he would take that argument to another level to answer the question. Why did God allow the destruction of his house? Because the sacrifice of Christ had superceded it. In essence, the cross summed up all the sin sacrifices performed by the Temple priests up to that point. Any more sacrifices would be pointless.
On a deeper level, the Temple sacrifices were symbolic. The life of an animal substituted for the life of the priest and the people. The blood of the animal bore the sins of the all. Yet, because the sacrifice was symbolic, it was incomplete. So, it needed to be sacrificed over and over. Such an insight spoke to the imperfect nature of us as people. We want to become close to God, but our immorality keeps us far from him. We offer, but sacrifice itself is imperfect. And, because we fall back into our sin, our sacrifice is incomplete. What we needed was a perfect sacrifice that would cover all sin. On the cross, Christ offered such a sacrifice. It was at the end of the time (as the early Christians knew it). It was a transcendent event that covered all sin, past, present, and future; so, it was perfect. And all people could partake of the sacrifice by faith.
The last two areas need some comment. First, since the victim of the sacrifice was human, and since the victim was raised from the dead, the sacrifice itself became transcendent. The risen Lord represented all humanity, as the first person to survive death body and soul. As the "proto-type" man, the Lord became the sign of the new humanity, the new state of affairs for God's creatures. This sign became universal. His self-giving pointed the way to eternal life for all people. So, his sacrifice was transcendent on a horizontal plane. It effected everyone ever born.
But the sacrifice had a vertical dimension. Not only was it an example to show all humanity its destiny, it connected all to their Maker. How? By becoming followers of the risen Lord, people could partook in his unique relationship the Lord had with God. And, they partook in his sacrifice, with the ramifications of resurrection. How did one become a follower? Through faith.
The author of Hebrews ended his argument with a parallel analogy and a corollary. Just as people die, then face God's judgement, so too, Christ died. But because he rose from the dead as the "new man," he will return for the "new humanity," the faithful who await his return. Christ would not be judged. He would be God's judge. And he would acquit and save God's people.
What was the upshot from the author's argument? Because of Christ's perfect sacrifice, he became the High Priest before God in heaven. And, through faith, we faithful share in his heavenly worship, primarily through baptism (...hearts having been sprinkled from a evil conscience, the body having been washed clean) and through Eucharist (washed with his blood,...through the veil, which is his flesh).
So, what is the distance between heaven and earth? In Christ, there is no distance. In him, we stand before the face of God. In him, he partake in the worship of heaven itself.
What would you say to God if you stood before him now? Why don't you say that prayer now?