Hebrews 12: 14 – 29
Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears.
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.’ This phrase ‘Yet once more’ indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
How did the Jews who followed Christ as saviour navigate the implications of this new life? The persecution from Synagogue and State; the amalgamation of Gentiles in their ranks, and the challenges this brought to the practice of long held Jewish customs and rituals; the knowing that Christ is Saviour, but the not knowing of what comes next.
These issues are played out in this letter, and at the risk of sounding flippant, I can’t help but draw parallels with our midst-covid world. Thrown from a situation of relative certainty, where the Church simply ‘was’ and has always been; a physical place of sanctuary; a mark on the landscape; a familiarity and a comforting presence in our lives, we find ourselves nervous and exhausted, knee deep in risk assessments, faces covered, advising long standing members not to come to worship, for their own benefit. In this scary new world, it’s so easy to look back, to long for that old certainty of rhythm and ritual, the confidence of our forebears in God’s purpose for us, and to get back to how it was.
This section of the letter to the Hebrews, reminding them that Jesus, to put it crudely, ‘trumps all’ has much to say to us. Just as the Hebrews were forced to consider their own culture from a new Jesus shaped perspective, we too have an opportunity to re-assess, to re-centre Jesus, to remember that the church can be shaken, but the Kingdom cannot. With or without us, the Kingdom will continue to grow, as it always has. Jesus is ‘out there’, beyond the boundaries of our church walls, with the oppressed, the hurting, the maligned and the broken. Isn’t it about time that we got out there and joined him?
sometimes you feel far away.
The past looks rosier than the future.
It used to all make sense.
I seek you out, Jesus,
first born of God, made flesh,
now sat at the right hand of the Father,
yet, right here with me.
Send your Spirit,
to whisper new ways,
infuse in me faith,
hurry me on and into the world,
Where I might join
in the dance of your Heavenly Kingdom.