GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
We continue our journey through Ordinary Time with another solemnity.
So last week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and this Sunday we are celebrating the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, commonly known as Corpus Christi, Latin for body of Christ.
So today —you are not going to be surprised — it is Year B so we are going to be in the Gospel of Mark and because it is Corpus Christi, the gospel for today is taken straight from the account of the Last Supper in Mark 14:12-26.
So let's begin there and we will read it together and unpack it:
And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the passover lamb, his disciples said to him, "Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the passover?"
And he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, `The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?'
And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us."
And the disciples set out and went to the city, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover.
At this point lectionary skips a few verses down to verse 22 and says this:
And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body."
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.
And he said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
So we will stop there.
The first thing I would like to highlight in this account of the Last Supper is that first line in Mark's gospel, “on the first day of Unleavened Bread.”
This is one of those times where Mark uses an expression from the Old Testament and from Jewish practice and belief, but he doesn't define it for you.
So if you don't know what he's talking about or if you are not familiar with that feast then you are not going to have a full sense of what he is about to narrate in the account of the Last Supper.
So most Christians are familiar with Passover and the Feast of Passover, but we tend to be less familiar with the Feast of Unleavened Bread...
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Alright, so you might already have noticed just from that one sampling, if you haven’t read Hebrews before, that Hebrews is complex. It is one of the most sophisticated writings in the New Testament. It’s the most difficult Greek — widely regarded as the most difficult Greek — in the New Testament. And it’s dense. There’s a lot going on here.
For our purposes here, I just want to unpack a few elements of it that are essential to understanding the basic idea of what the letter is referring to. The first point is the identification of Jesus as a high priest. What does that mean to identify Him as a high priest? Well, any first century Hebrew, any first century Jew, would have been familiar with the fact that in Pentateuch, in the books of Moses in the Old Testament, Aaron (Moses’ brother) is set apart to be the high priest over the people of Israel.
In other words, he was the leading officiant in the sacrificial worship of God that was conducted in the tabernacle of Moses, which was a portable sanctuary that was designed by God, given to God and revealed to Israel through Moses in the book of Exodus, as the place and in the manner in which God wanted to be worshipped in the time of the exodus. And Aaron is set apart as the chief priest or the high priest. And his sons of the tribe of Aaron are actually going to be eventually (the family of Aaron) are going to be designated as his successors in that high priesthood.
So the difference between a high priest and a regular priest in the Old Testament — and actually, all the way up until the time of Jesus Himself — is that whereas a regular ordinary Aaronic priest could enter into the tabernacle or the temple in the court of sacrifice and offer burnt offerings and bulls and goats and lambs… and could even enter into the holy place and offer the Bread of the Presence and incense and things like that that were offered in the tabernacle. The high priest and the high priest alone could enter into the innermost sanctum of the temple, known as the Holy of Holies, and that he could only do once a year.
And once a year he would enter into that sanctuary, that inner sanctum, and he would offer the blood of the sacrifice for the Day of Atonement — in Hebrew, known as Yom Kippur
. And this was the day that the sacrifice would be offered by the high priest, a special sacrifice in order to atone or reconcile for all of the sins committed by himself, all the priests, and all of the people for the entire year.
So you could offer sacrifices for yourself or for your family. If you committed a sin, you'd offer a sin offering. In order to make reparation, you’d offer a guilt offering. Throughout the year, individual people could offer sacrifices. That was what the temple did.
But every year, once a year, the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary, and he would offer a sacrifice to atone for all of the sins of all of the people for the entire year. So it was like an annual corporate or universal sin offering. So when the letter of Hebrews identifies Christ as the:
...high priest of the good things that have come…
What he’s doing is he’s drawing a typological parallel between the high priest in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament. And this would have been shocking to a first-century Jewish reader on one level, because Jesus is not a member of the tribe of Aaron. Jesus is not a member of the tribe of Levi. Jesus comes from the tribe of Judah, as His genealogy tells us. So He’s part of the royal tribe, but He would have been.... mysteriously, Jesus would have been a layman just on a historical, earthly level. This is one of the mysteries of Jesus. He’s both a layman and a priest — kind of like the Blessed Mother is both virgin and mother. They encompass these different mysteries in themself.
So what Hebrews here is describing is Jesus acting as the true high priest of — second point:
...the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)...
Now what is that referring to? Well, the word tent there, skéné
, is the word that is used for the tabernacle in the Old Testament. So the tabernacle was just a portable sanctuary. It’s like a big tent that would be erected by the Levites — put it together, they’d put it up. And in this tent which was divided into three parts… you had the sanctuary, the outer court of sacrifice. Then you’d have an inner tent, the holy place where you had the Bread of the Presence, you had a golden Menorah, you had the golden Altar of Incense of prayers going up to God.
And then you had the third innermost sanctuary of that tent, which was the Holy of Holies. And that housed the famous Ark of the Covenant — the golden box containing the Ten Commandments, topped with golden statues of cherubim which was called the Mercy Seat. It would be the place where the high priest would go in and pour out the blood of the sacrifice for the Day of Atonement once a year — every year in the fall, by the way. That’s when that would happen. Between September and October was when the Day of Atonement would take place and still takes place to this day — not in the the temple, but Jews celebrate Yom Kippur
to this day as an annual festival.
So what Hebrews is saying here is that Jesus is a true high priest, and He enters into not the holy place in the temple on Earth. He enters into a:
...greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)...
Well, where is this tent? Where is this tabernacle Hebrews is talking about? Well, the letter of Hebrews is referring here to the heavenly tabernacle, to the heavenly Holy of Holies, the heavenly dwelling place of God. And in making this argument, Hebrews here is assuming pretty standard Jewish understanding from the first century AD that goes all the way back to the book of Exodus. When God, in the book of Exodus, gives Moses those absolutely boring instructions that everyone stops reading — anytime people try to read the Bible and they get through Genesis. “Wow, it’s fascinating, even a little racy.” Then they get to Exodus: “Wow” — the story of the exodus from Egypt. But when they hit Exodus 24-25, that’s when a lot of people fall off the Bible reading wagon, because the detailed instructions about how to build a tabernacle are very tedious to read. So a lot of people just… it’s like reading an Ikea manual for building a piece of furniture. It’s just dry. But it’s very important, because God actually tells Moses in Exodus 25:40, when He’s giving them instructions for the tabernacle, He says:
And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.
And there are some other verses too. In other words, Moses models the earthly tabernacle on the heavenly tabernacle that he sees when he goes up to the top of Mount Sinai and has a vision of Heaven. So from that time on in Judaism, there was always this understanding that the earthly temple was like a visible icon of the heavenly temple. The earthly tabernacle was like a material shadow of the invisible tabernacle of God’s dwelling place in Heaven.
And so what the letter to Hebrews is saying here is that Christ was not the high priest of the earthly tabernacle. He didn’t go like Aaron into the Holy of Holies once a year to offer the blood of bulls and goats and lambs. But He entered into the heavenly tabernacle not made with hands, not of this creation. And He brought with Him His own blood to secure not an annual redemption but an eternal redemption, an eternal sacrifice that atones for sin.
So you can, this is really a powerful argument. He says:
...he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh….
That would be the old covenant sacrifice of the Day of Atonement.
...how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:12-14)
This is an argument from the lesser to the greater. It’s saying if the blood of bulls and goats had the power to atone and cleanse the flesh from external impurities, how much more does the blood of Christ have the power to cleanse our conscience from dead works (that means sin) to serve the living God? And that’s what we mean (verse 15) when we say:
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant… (Hebrews 8:15a)
So in the Old Testament, remember, a covenant is a sacred family bond between God and Israel. It establishes a relationship between Him and His people. And that relationship is renewed through acts of love we call sacrifice — acts of offering to God that would take place daily and annually in that earthly temple. But at the end of the day, all of those sacrifices of the blood of bulls and goats — which many modern people find repugnant. Actually, not just modern people — even some ancient people found this stuff strange, pagan converts to Christianity. What was all this about? Why would the God of the universe care if I slaughter a bull or a goat? What is that about?
Well, what Hebrews is revealing here is that the earthly material blood of those bulls and goats was a sign or shadow of the blood of Christ — the infinitely valuable blood of Christ, which is poured out in love, in order to atone not just for the sins of all of the people in one year, but for the sins of all humanity and for all of human history. That’s what we mean when we say Christ is the mediator. He’s the go-between between humanity and God. He ushers humanity into God’s heavenly sanctuary, where He pours out His blood for our salvation and for the sake of the whole world.
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