‘We have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way he opened for us through the curtain (that is through his flesh), and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart’.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
O Beauty ever ancient and ever new, late have I loved you!
The longing of the people of Israel comes to its fulfilment today. The dramatic events of anointing, Passover meals, betrayals, and arrests come to their climax in this moment.
Jesus Christ, the one who is ever ancient and ever new, has been revealed as a prophet on Palm Sunday, proclaiming God’s truth.
He has been revealed as the new priest, anointed to bring salvation.
He has revealed as the new light, piercing the darkness.
He has been revealed as the new deliverer, saving his people from sin and death.
He has been revealed as the new Lamb, spotless and unblemished, chosen by God to make a new covenant.
And on this most holy of days, those individual images of prophet, priest, light, deliverer and lamb join together as one and again reveal something ancient and something new: a new Temple.
It was in the ancient temple that the words of the prophets were heard and lived out; it was the place where the priests exercised their priesthood; it was the place where light was enthroned (remember the Menorah – the seven branched candelabra representing the burning bush and the tree of life), it was the place where deliverance from slavery was continually commemorated, it was the place where the Lambs, the pure, unblemished Lambs were offered to God.
Saint John tells us that the Friday we call good – this day – was the ‘day of preparation’. What was the day of preparation? It was the day when those Lambs, were slaughtered. It was the day when they were offered to God – to make present the salvation won by him, in ages past.
On this day, just over two thousand years ago, another Lamb was slaughtered, Jesus Christ. He was slaughtered for the sins of the world; literally, as the prophet Isaiah recalls, he ‘poured out himself to death’. The servant, the one of whom we have read all week, allows himself to be ‘exalted and lifted up’. He has been ‘led like a lamb to the slaughter’. His whole life lived for this moment. In this moment, on Good Friday, Jesus Christ offers himself the sins of the world. He is poured out, not on the altar of the temple, but on the altar of the cross, and in so doing he, like the ancient Lamb, secures salvation; today his salvation is ever ancient, and ever new.
Where does this happen? It happens on Calvary’s hill, on Golgotha, the place of the skull. It happens in the new Temple. Today the rites and rituals of the old temple are vanquished by the new rite of Christ’s self-offering. Christ’s very body is the new Temple. For it is, as he heard in our second reading from Hebrews, ‘the new and living way’ to God – it is now the only way to the Father.
As we have learnt, in ages past, until these very days, the dwelling place of God, the place where heaven and earth met, the only place of sacrifice and redemption was the Temple in Jerusalem.
What would happen when the sacrificial lambs were slaughtered in the old Temple? The blood would drain out with water and flood the Kidron valley below. Now, at the moment of death, the side of Jesus is pierced, blood and water flowing freely. The great prophet Ezekiel tells us that a new Temple will replace the old and from it will flow water for healing…. Ever ancient words, and now new in Jesus.
The days of the old ways are now gone.
Now, now, there is a new Temple.
A new Temple in the bruised, battered, bloody, scourged, suffering, shattered, anguished, agonised, asphyxiated body of Jesus. Offered by himself, as the new priest, as the new lamb, in order to truly, once and for all, set us free, set us free from captivity, to set us free from sin, to bring out of darkness and into light. The new Temple is his body, his own flesh, given for our salvation. His blood, poured to take away our sins. This Temple, and this temple alone, is the place of God’s glory. This temple, and this temple alone is now the only dwelling place of God. This temple, and this temple alone is the meeting place between heaven and earth. It goes beyond our imagining, and in Jesus’ own words: in him is something greater than ever before.
Today, the gates of God’s presence are open. Today, the age of the new covenant, sealed in his blood has dawned. Today, the veil that separated us from the holiness of God, like the veil in the holy of holies in the Temple, God’s own sanctuary, is torn open. A new Temple is here – a new way to God is here – it is Jesus himself – he is the fulfilment of the ancient word, he and he alone makes all things new.
His death makes all things new. Do we want what his death achieves? Do we want healing? Do we want forgiveness? Do we want peace? Do we want life? If we do, the answer is simple; look at the cross, look at ‘the one on whom they have pierced’, recognise in him, God’s presence, recognise in him the place where heaven and earth meet, the place where redemption is obtained, and come to him...
Come to him in your hearts and accept his offering as a personal offering for love of you. You may feel, as we have heard all week, that you have not loved him, or your love is too late, or too weak, but now, in this moment, let us come to him – with a ‘true heart’ and receive, his ‘righteousness’. The righteousness of the Lord: ever ancient, ever new.