The Fifth Sunday in Lent
The Epistle. Hebrews 9. 11.
Christ, being come an high priest of good things to come, by the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
Today marks the beginning of Passiontide which should alert us to the fact that we are approaching a series of very Holy events at this time of year. And no, I’m not talking about the Masters golf tournament or Opening Day of the baseball season.
Passiontide is basically the designation for the two weeks between Passion Sunday and Easter Day. Between now and then we will celebrate Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem with the multitudes yelling “Hosanna to the Son of David!”; between now and then, we will commemorate Our Lord’s institution of the Mass. Between now and then, Christ will be betrayed, beaten, and spit upon as the multitude cries “crucify him!”. Between now and then, Our Savior will bleed and die for us. Between now and then, the Holy and Perfect Sacrifice will be made so that we may be purified by the Blood of Christ; and we will literally be washed in the Blood of the Lamb.
My wife Catherine doesn’t like it when she hears about the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament. That’s because she’s never met an animal she doesn’t like; she’d have goats in the house if it were possible. I’ve had to draw the line at the dog. Ok, and the two cats as well. Basically, Catherine doesn’t like death, particularly death that seems, on the surface, needless and needlessly cruel.
Couldn’t we say the same thing about Our Lords death? I know that there was a time when I would read the Passion narratives and think to myself; “why didn’t he answer Pilate? He could have proved the Pharisees to be liars, so easily. Why did he have to die like that”?
Well, of course he didn’t have to. Does anyone here really think that Jesus had to make that Sacrifice if he didn’t want to? We made it necessary. From the time of the original sin, God has been offering ways for mankind to return to Him. Laws were written. Covenants made. Freedom, protection, prosperity; all were given to Israel and to man. All we had to do is stay clean. Of course, we couldn’t. And so God gives us one last chance, one last path, one last way back to Him. All we have to do is get clean. By being washed in the Blood of the Lamb.
You see, through Jesus Christ comes purification. Through Jesus Christ comes sanctification. Through Jesus Christ comes the cleansing of the soul that we need if we are to do God’s will, and grow His Kingdom. Through Jesus Christ is our way back to God, “no-one cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
This washing, this cleansing comes in different forms. There is the regeneration that we receive at our Baptism. There is the renewal and grace we receive through the Body and Blood of Christ at the Mass; “that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood”.
There is the renewal of our lives when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and seek to do his will. There is the cleansing of our hearts and minds when we follow Christ’s commandment; “as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you (John 20:21). There is the purification, the sanctification, that renewal and cleansing we receive when we cast aside our pride, our arrogance, and our selfishness, and commit ourselves to following Him.
And the best thing about this is; it’s never too late to get clean. St. Paul makes this point even while admonishing the Corinthians for their behavior; “and such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11).
The Blood of Christ does this. The sacrifice he made on Calvary washes us clean from sin and brings us closer to God. We can try other means, but to paraphrase St. Paul, if you can get clean on the outside by taking regular baths and showers and treating people nice, how much more can you achieve if, through the Blood of Christ, you also commit your heart and soul to do God’s Will?
Cleansing your heart and mind begins by asking yourself, and answering honestly, if you have truly given yourself to God. Have you dedicated your life to following Christ? Have you placed yourself at the foot of the Cross and realized that the Blood being shed there is on your behalf? Have you understood the significance of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ? Have you been washed in the Blood of the Lamb?
The Jews of Our Lord’s time believed that “Apart from shedding of blood there is no remission of sins”; which was at the root of the reasoning behind animal sacrifice. “The blood that was sprinkled by the priest upon the altar served as the means of a renewal of man’s covenant of life with God. In Mosaic ritualism the atoning blood thus actually meant the bringing about of a reunion with God, the restoration of peace between the soul and its Maker.“
This is why Our Lord remained silent before Pilate. This is why Jesus refused to respond to the accusations brought against him. This is why the Sacrifice of Christ was necessary. This is why “he had to die like that”!
Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, was Sacrificed so that we could be made clean; so that our sins would be washed away; so that on that final day, we can present ourselves as purified, renewed and made ready to be in the presence of God’s eternal Love; so that we can be reunited with God. “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God“. This is what we need to hold in our hearts and minds as we progress through the season of Passiontide.
And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.