Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sermon: Palmarum - 2019

14 April 2019

Text: Matt 26:1-27:66

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

I once heard a non-Christian refer to our faith as a “blood religion.”  He meant it to be provocative and insulting.  But similar to Caiphas stating that it is “better for one man [Jesus] to die for the nation” than for everyone to perish, there is an unintended and ironical truth being told.

Yes, Christianity is a blood religion.

When God fashioned the first man Adam, He made him of dust, and fashioned flesh and bones and blood, and breathed life into him.  He made Adam in His own image, and then fashioned Eve of Adam’s flesh and blood.  Adam, in the image of Christ, was a flesh and blood man.

And when Adam and Eve sinned, when the Lord’s warning that they would “surely die” came true, their blood would be required of them.  For the life is in the blood.  But even then, the Lord, in His mercy, saved them from eternal death by means of blood, innocent blood, the blood of a substitute, animal skins of the first sacrifice which covered their nakedness and their shame. 

And sadly, when mankind had multiplied from two to four, Cain shed the blood of his brother Abel, whose blood cried out to God.  And as the world became more violent and bloody, the Lord sent the great flood, in which the blood of nearly every living creature was shed, blood mixed with water, as a cleansing of sin.  But Noah and his family were saved by the water, and at the end of their time on the ark, they renewed the practice of the blood sacrifice unto the Lord. 

When Abraham obediently consented to sacrifice his son, his only son, the Lord provided the substitutionary sacrifice, the “ram, caught in a thicket by his horns” whose blood was shed instead of his son Isaac’s.  And Abraham noted that the Lord provided.

When the children of Israel left Egypt, the blood of the Passover Lamb protected them from the angel of death, and they too were saved through water at the Red Sea, where the blood of Pharaoh’s army mixed with the water of the sea called Red.

And Moses received the Law from God, which required blood as the price of sin: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life – along with the sacrifices of animals offered up to God for the forgiveness of sins.

The people of God continued to obey the Lord’s command of blood sacrifices at altars: at the tabernacle, and then at the temple.  But “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,” says the author of Hebrews.  For those sacrifices were tokens of the one sacrifice to end all sacrifices, the pinnacle of human history that proves indeed that Christianity is a “blood religion”: the bloody altar of the cross!

As St. Paul confesses: “We preach Christ crucified.”  Our salvation is from the blood of the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.  The Lord’s blood, the blood of which Pilate himself asserted his own innocence, the blood that “all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’” – this holy, precious blood that offers redemption to all of mankind and atones for all of the sins of the world, was poured out as a sacrifice during His passion, at His flogging, during the beatings that He endured, and in the horrific hours of His crucifixion.  

And when the Lord’s ordeal was finished, that is, when He had victoriously completed His mission of love for us, dear friends, He “yielded up His spirit.”  As the lifeblood of the Lamb, the Sacrifice to end all sacrifices, ebbed from His holy body, “behold, the curtain of the temple,” that place of priests and victims and sacrifices, “was torn in two.”  “And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,” writes the holy evangelist.  Some artistic renderings of the crucifixion depict the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ moistening the ground and restoring life to the bones of Adam, calling to mind the vision of resurrection given to Ezekiel, when the dry bones revivified, putting on flesh and once more coursing blood, being filled with breath from the spirit of God, and rising from death!

For the Father sacrificed His Son, His only Son, providing Him as a ram, his head caught in the thicket of a crown of thorns, shedding the blood of the Lord who provides.

And let us not forget St. John’s eyewitness that “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”

Christianity is a blood religion, for blood is life – the life lost through sin, and life restored through forgiveness and atonement.  The blood shed to satisfy the requirements of the Law is Christ’s blood, perfect blood, which cries out to the Father, not for vengeance, but for mercy; not an eye for an eye, but for the forgiveness of sins.

For the blood of the Lord was also mentioned earlier in today’s passion account, dear brothers and sisters: “Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  The Lord’s holy blood is not only shed on the cross, it is manifested in the cup by His Word, by His command, by His mercy, by His power.  The blood of Christ is given to us to drink, even as His holy body, the flesh of the sacrificial Lamb, is offered to us as bread: the Bread of Life consecrated by His Word, His body, given to us for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  For the Lord’s body and blood are sacrificed and poured out on the cross, even as they are eaten and drunk by us: His sinful, but forgiven people!

Christianity is a blood religion, because Christ is a flesh and blood Savior!  

He doesn’t merely wish us well; He dies so that we might live. He doesn’t merely come into our world and carry on like a wise man with wise words; He is Wisdom incarnate, in flesh and blood.  He is the Word incarnate, in flesh and blood.  And His flesh and blood are given to us in our flesh and blood.  And like the depiction of the blood of Christ reviving Adam, like the sacrifice that covered the nakedness and shame of Adam and Eve, and like the children of Israel being covered in the blood of the victim shed by the priest – Jesus is our High Priest and our innocent substitutionary Victim.  And His blood does indeed make us innocent, and His blood is on us and on our children, and His blood marks our doors so that the angel of death passes over us!

For this is not the blood of bulls and goats, but the blood of God incarnate, God in flesh and blood, the God who has come to save us by means of His blood, the God whose blood is placed upon your lips, the God whose name is on your lips, whose name is Jesus, whose blood has redeemed us, forgiven us, and given to us everlasting life, through the cross and beyond the grave, even unto eternity!  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

No comments: