You may wish to listen/sing along:
Let us pray:
Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity. Amen.
You may wish to listen/sing along:
Praise we him, whose love divine, gives his sacred Blood for wine, gives his Body for the feast, Christ the victim, Christ the priest.
On the 6th April 2020 an event took place that had only happened once before in history. The doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem were locked. As a protective measure against the spread of the Coronavirus, the place of Jesus’ death and the tomb of his resurrection, were shut for all the world to see. A moving video showed the priest leaving the Church and the caretaker locking the large doors of what is, arguably, the holiest site known to Christians. The only other time the Church has been closed was as result of another pandemic, the Black Death in 1349. Over the course of this rather different Holy Week, we have been invited to contemplate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus in a completely different way. This way has seen us prevented from gathering for public worship, this way has seen us deprived of the sacramental grace which Jesus gives us through his Church, and yet despite this, the way we have travelled has led I hope, to a greater appreciation of the paschal mystery – Christ’s loving offering of himself. The isolation we have experienced perhaps sheds some light on the isolation that he experienced during that first Holy Week, as he contemplated his own death and suffering. Knowing, that he would have to endure insult, injustice and injury, before his glorious resurrection. He did not waver. We too are called not to waver in light of these circumstances. In some ways, it does not matter that the Holy Sepulchre is closed – it is a place – and places – not even the tomb – not even the chains of death – can hold Jesus Christ – as he promised he has arisen! This new reality should give us joy, hope and peace; the resurrection of Jesus cannot stop, it will not stop, because his love has won.
This week we have been contemplating the priesthood of Jesus. How does that emerge today? It emerges in a new way – because he does something today that was new – the sacrifice of the Passover lambs was not new, the people of Israel commemorated it each year, it was part of their routine, albeit a sacred one. The resurrection was new; the people had experienced nothing like it before. How does this relate to the Old Testament call of the priest to care for the Temple, to instruct in the law of the Lord and to offer the sacrifice?
Jesus on Easter day fulfils each of these things and goes beyond anything the people could’ve imagined. At the essence of the priesthood, at the heart of these three functions was the mediation of the presence of God.
Mediating the presence of God resulted in the creation, the people of God, being made holy.
St Athanasius of Alexandria reminds us: ‘He [Christ] became Mediator between God and human beings in order that he might minister the things of God to us and our things to God’.
Today the things of God are clear:
The sacrifice is complete and the life it brings is new:
‘They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day’ (Acts 10.40)
Jesus the mediator has been raised. His humanity, being identical with ours means that we too can experience the ‘things of God’, that is, the resurrection life. Death is defeated today by his wondrous resurrection. The death that results from sin has been defeated, and as St Peter reminds us in Acts, if we believe in him, we will receive forgiveness through his name. Jesus the name of God – the Messiah of Israel is the name by which we are saved. He himself having offered the priestly sacrifice, and by his rising, begins the new covenant relationship one not focussed on the death of the Lamb, but rather on his life. The Paschal Lambs were killed; they did not rise again. Their blood, symbolising their life, was protective, and yet the ritual was repeated year on year. Today, Jesus, this new Lamb of God is alive – he is not dead – his blood is life giving because he is alive. His sacrifice and his resurrection have restored us to God. His death is once and for all, it can never be repeated, his life is eternal, it can never be extinguished.
Jesus has given new instruction in the law:
‘Let Israel now proclaim, his mercy endures for ever’ (Psalm 118.2)
By the Paschal mystery we have celebrated in these days Jesus has refocused the law – the law is now one of love as we discovered on Maundy Thursday, and the clearest expression of love is mercy. Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy. The name of God in Jesus is mercy for the Messiah has brought about a new law – the law of love of God and love of neighbour. His mercy endures forever because he has won the victory, his mercy is for us, because he speaks our names personally, as he did to Mary in the gospel reading. His sacrifice and resurrection has brought a new law: mercy. And that mercy is lived out in us his disciples, who have sought things not of this world, but of God.
He has established a new temple:
‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’ (Psalm 118.22)
This completes the priestly function of Jesus: he was to care for the temple. As the Psalmist reminds us, though he was rejected, Jesus himself, by the means of his flesh and blood has established a new temple. The temple, the dwelling place of God is now focussed on the body of Jesus – the resurrected body – the temple that gives true life – the temple that is truly the presence of God in all its fullness. We are made sharers in this temple if we place our trust in him, if we seek Christ, for our lives will be hidden in him, we will become the living stones of the new temple precisely because we live in him.
This Easter we can too can say with Mary, ‘I have seen the Lord’; we have seen him offer himself and rise again, we have seen him instruct us in a new way of love, and we have seen him establish a new temple in his body, we have seen salvation in Jesus our Priest. May this Easter be full of the blessings he has won for us, to him be the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.