by Liz Niehoff
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,”
he also adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
This past Sunday, I preached on Hebrews 10:11-25, which was the lectionary text. For the majority of my “career,” I have found great value in lectionary preaching, both for its theological and pastoral challenge, but mostly, for the fact that it allows this hard-headed preacher to lay down her insistence on being right for the sake of the perfection of God’s message to God’s people. This text was rather difficult to preach in the wake of a week of violence—violence in Paris, Beirut, Yemen, violence against refugees, black and brown bodies, white bodies, men, women, children, earthquakes in Japan, natural disasters, and ongoing, never-ending verbal violence. A text that offers a litany of “let us” statements didn’t seem to speak to me, and my concern was that it wouldn’t speak to anyone else.
As it turns out, this very text was precisely what a breaking, broken, hurting world and church just might need to hear. Not to heal (as, let’s face it, that’s a much larger project, and not for a single Sunday), but to bind the wounds that are festering, burning, and bleeding after a week of assault and injury and insult.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews encourages the reader that though Christ has gone to the cross for the sins of the world, the work is not done, but rather just begun. This passage suggests that Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection don’t simply end with our approach to worship Christ for going to the cross for us. Instead, this event invites us to renew our commitment to Christ as we leave the altar of his sacrifice.
In a world of iPads, iPhones, billboards, fluorescent lights and 140 character snippets, it is hard to pin down what faithfulness looks and feels like, truly and deeply. The writer of Hebrews understands this. Our passage both affirms the struggle and hope, encouraging us to hold fast to our faith in the promises of God. Most importantly, when we step away from the cross, the new altar established by Christ, we do not leave alone, but are forever accompanied by the company of the cloud of witnesses.
See, faith is not supposed to be a self-isolating journey, but rather one where we are invited into community. That is part of the “let us” invitations Jesus is extending. We are invited to faith in God, not just for ourselves, but in support of one another—when we are struggling, and when we are joyful; when we need a boost in our spirits, and when we need to do so for one another. We are invited into community, not only so that we can give glory to God—the God who gave his only Son so that we could be together again –but also so that we can inspire one another in faithfulness. The cross of Christ is never a source of individual faithfulness, or a competition of “my faith is stronger than yours,” but a communal witness of encouragement and hope.
So come here. Let us come and gather round, understanding that we are called to hold fast to our faith not in isolation, but in community with those around us. Thanks be to God, Amen.
Liz Niehoff has just begun serving as a full time hospice and home care staff chaplain in Danbury, Connecticut.