Hebrews 9:1-14 continues the book of Hebrews’ discussion of the ceremonies, rituals, and sacrifices that were part of the temple in Israel until the destruction of the Temple around 70 C.E., between 30-40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The intricate details of temple worship, including ceremonial objects, washings, and sacrifices are described and then contrasted with the content of Christian worship. I find the details dizzying and a little hard to follow, which might in fact be a part of the point. The readers of this New Testament letter had likely for years been encouraged by the intricate, dizzying complexity of ritual in the temple of Israel and now may have been going through shock to be cut off from it, either through censure from the Jewish community or (very likely) having seen that temple destroyed, depending on the timing of the writing of Hebrews.
That dizzying complexity of ritual had been a source of reassurance for people of the covenant. Going through those rituals was a reminder that they were held and carried by God. They were reminded of God’s promises to them and also the call to be faithful in doing justice, joining in God’s work of mending the world.
Whether it was through witnessing the destruction of the temple or through expulsion from the Jewish community (or possibly both), these early Christians may have been shell-shocked. The comfort of these rituals and ceremonies being ripped from them might have left them feeling like they had been pushed into the cold winter of a dark world with no comforting coat or blanket to wrap in for protection.
The writer of Hebrews lets them know that they do not need to tremble in fear, but can know they are held, loved, cared for. The life of Jesus also embodies the promises of God given through Abram. It in fact pictures God’s love, faithfulness, and promise not just to Israel but to all of humanity. In Jesus, God has thrown God’s lot in with us, demonstrating that now God’s future is bound up in our future, and our future bound up in God’s. This is what the meaning of the Incarnation is. Just as a woman who chooses to become a mother is choosing to intertwine her future with the future of that child forming in her womb, so through Christ we have been placed into God’s own life so that God has intertwined God’s destiny and our own.
We don’t need to fear we are not held, carried, loved, and cared for. Just as that mother cannot easily cast off the life of the child within her womb without greatly impacting her own life, so God has in Jesus demonstrated more than any ritual could teach us that God will not simply cast us off, abandon us, or forsake us.
This is how Jesus’ blood, a symbol for Jesus’ whole life — from conception to birth, from birth to baptism, from baptism to teaching, from teaching to death, from death to resurrection on Easter morning, from Easter to now being ascendant to fill all things with his presence — opens up a new and living way into a better sanctuary. Jesus’ life shows us God is not far off, somewhere in the bye and bye, but nearer than the air that we breathe. Jesus’ life shows us that as certainly as the sun will rise in the morning, God’s love will never be taken from us and God will mend our lives and world. This is true whatever losses we face, whatever dark days come, and whatever turmoil shakes us to the core. For even when shaken and afraid we can know we are held safe in God through Jesus our Lord.
What a powerful promise! May it carry you this day and all your days.