Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Mount Sinai, Mount Zion
[American Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Paris] It is a wonderful day to be here with you. This is the day that the Lord hath made let us rejoice and be glad in it. I am glad in the pulpit today because we are going to hear about an extraordinary piece of literature, the letter to Hebrews. King James’ men, when they did their famous translation, called it the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews. But, it is almost most certainly not by Paul. It is written by an anonymous Christian, a Jew, writing to Jewish Christians, and it uses extraordinary metaphors written from the perspective of the Jewish people.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and redeemer. Amen.
It is a wonderful day to be here with you. This is the day that the Lord hath made let us rejoice and be glad in it. I am glad in the pulpit today because we are going to hear about an extraordinary piece of literature, the letter to Hebrews.
King James’ men, when they did their famous translation, called it the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews. But, it is almost most certainly not by Paul. It is written by an anonymous Christian, a Jew, writing to Jewish Christians, and it uses extraordinary metaphors written from the perspective of the Jewish people.
Jewish Christians – I don’t imagine that there are any here today -- but if there are, I want to just say something that I learned a long time ago when I was a student at a Benedictine high school. I had the privilege of studying with a man who had been the Catholic bishop of Sweden, and he said two things that I have never forgotten. The first is, “wherever the sacraments are administered, there is a church; it is not a question of hierarchy.” Extraordinary for a Catholic bishop in the 1960s! The second thing is to the point. He said, “When a Gentile converts to Christianity, that person converts. When a Jewish person becomes a Christian, she is only deepened in her identity, not converted.” And that actually is the message of the entire letter to Hebrews – this is a deepening of who you already are.
But what does that say to us who are not blessed to be part of the people of Israel when we discover Jesus? What is it for us, this reading? In particular, I have always found the particular reading we have today to be quite extraordinary. This contrast between two mountains, Mount Sinai, where the law is given . . . a terrifying place. Even Moses trembled with fear. Fire and cloud on the summit. The mountain so sacred that if anything living touched it, it had to be killed.
The author says to his congregation, this isn’t where you are anymore. You are at Mount Zion. You are already in heaven, in other words. You are with the angels and the Saints – see all of these people were here . . . the angels in festal gathering, the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in Heaven, and God, the judge of all, into the spirits of the righteous made perfect.You are already here. It’s not something that’s in the future. It’s not something that’s achieved, something that you are going to do by being a good Jewish Christian. It is something that you already have.
And if you notice, right in the middle of the reading, you come to the sprinkled blood -- the blood of Jesus – that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel which is, of course, a reference to Chapter 4 in the Book of Genesis and the first murder, where Cain murders his brother Abel. And when God confronts Cain with what he has done, he says, the blood of your brother Abel cries out to me from the ground. And this blood – the blood of Jesus now – says a better word. And notice he says it‘s sprinkled. The people hearing this would have understood that he was referring to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, in which in the Temple, the high priest would go behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies, sacrifice an animal, change his vestment into bright white clothes, and come out to the people and sprinkle them with the blood of the sacrifice. Which signified to the people that they had already been forgiven because it came before any confession of sin. They have already been forgiven. The blood of Abel has already spoken its word, and now God has replied. And our anonymous author says this applies to Jesus’ blood. It’s already done. You are already in Heaven; this is where you are. Then he goes on to warn them . . . ______________________________________________________________________________________________________