Monday, 4 February 2019

The ultimate sacrifice.

Malachi 3: 1-5. Messenger and angel are the same word in Greek and this messenger comes to prepare the way for the Lord. In fact this prophesy might better be applied to the cleansing of the Temple than "the presentation". This prophesies a cleansing first of the religion of the day, and then a cleansing of the social sphere
Hebrews 2: 14-18. Jesus can help human beings precisely because he is a human being like us in every way (save being beyond temptation and enjoying an unbroken relationship with God) Because Jesus (flesh and blood) was raised, we (also flesh and blood) can be raised to eternal life.
Luke 2: 22-40. Luke confuses the presentation of the first born (which demands no visit to the Temple) with Mary's purification which demands a sacrifice. But his concern is not primarily with the details of the ritual but setting Jesus squarely in the context of old Israel. New and decisive though Jesus is, He is no bolt from the blue and is the promised Jewish Messiah.

Candlemas, so-called because the church used to bless all the candles they were going to use that year at this service has many themes, light, presentation, and purification but more than these there is a bitter-sweet nature to this day.
Candlemas is a watershed feast that marks the culmination of the Christmas and Epiphany season and looks forwards to the cross
The revelation of the person of Jesus to Simeon and Anna is a cause to rejoice, and fits with Epiphany, but in the prophetic words of Simeon talking of the falling and rising of many and of a sword that will pierce we have words that lead us downhill to the crucifixion.
Actually, the Old Testament reading from Malachi isn’t a very good fit with the theme of the day as it is far more suited to Jesus turning over the tables in the Temple because Malachi writes of the cleansing of the Temple as well as the cleansing of society.
It is a reminder to everyone that God is not just Lord of the church but is Lord of all life.
A pure religious cult that puts up with inequality and injustice is anathema to God just as much as a society that forgets that God is the source of all things and ignores Him.
Jesus came to cleanse and purify both religion and society. He is the light of the world.
When you shine a light it exposes all the dirt, dust and grime – all the things we’d rather keep hidden – hidden in the church, hidden in society and hidden in our lives.  Everything is revealed and what is revealed can be truly shocking.
“True religion” Jesus once said is to look after widows and orphans which blurred the lines wonderfully between the two.
The main way Jesus purified religion was to remove forever the need for priests and sacrifices of course.
Here too He embodies both things at the same time. He is both High Priest and eternal once for all sacrifice.
Our access to God, life and freedom is through his perfect Son who sacrificed Himself to win forgiveness for the sins of the whole world.
So what a High Priest used to do – sacrifice animals in the Temple and offer them to God to enact forgiveness is no longer needed.
Jesus in his body does that.
He both offers the sacrifice on our behalf and also IS the sacrifice Himself.
But a more fundamental question occurred in the Jacques household when we were reading Hebrews as part of our Bible reading discipline.
Why was any sacrifice needed at all? Whether Jesus or an animal – why did anyone ever think that this is what God wants?
The nature of sacrifice has always been an offering to God in gratitude for all the things we have and enjoy, because God is the creator of all things and so the giver of all things.
Gratitude offerings were originally of anything that was valuable to you, agricultural produce, fruit or wheat or Barley perhaps.
The greatest gift you could give to God was life itself. Life is represented by blood, so a blood sacrifice was the greatest offering you could give to God out of gratitude, yes, but also to eat the meat of an animal after it had been offered as a sacrifice to God reminds people of the divine source of life. Sacrifices were also feasts where everyone including the poor shared in a communal meal. Sacrifices were feasts and festivals not gloomy or fearful occasions.
I hope you have already made a connection now between those sacrificial feasts and the Eucharist where we symbolically share in the communal meal of Christ’s body and blood.
So the primary motive for sacrifice was actually love. A response of love to the source of love. The animal in the Temple cult represented a person or people. In offering the animal to God, it represented the offering of the self, and in eating the sacrificed animal it represented the receiving back a renewed self.
Jesus’ sacrifice was made out of God’s love for the whole creation – to bring it back into a loving relationship with him.
It is tempting to think that Simeon, looking into the eyes of Mary could foresee all this and felt obliged to warn her of impending tragedy for her, but at the same time, joy for the whole world because it freed us from fear of death and suffering.
It was a bitter-sweet day for Mary as well as a bitter sweet feast day for us.
But the light of the world was here recognised in the very place which sought through their sacrificial cult, to bring humanity and God together.
Jesus was truly in his Father’s house.

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