Jesus said to his disciples: ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many’. Mark
In this Eucharist we are being caught up into the eternal sacrifice of Christ and its profound challenge to our self-interest.
This gathering in the parish Church is part of an eternal gathering stretching back to Abraham and beyond and stretching forward to the consummation of all things.
This morning we are touching reality - we are drawn to the events represented here which institute God’s covenant with us, and we are drawn into a love which touches every human concern upon the earth.
To the outward eye we are a small gathering of religious people doing their own thing upon their weekly holy day. To the eye of faith we are Christians, caught up once more, on behalf of the whole creation, into the eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ, through whom,and with whom and in whom in the unity of the Holy Spirit, we give glory to our Father in heaven.
The Old Testament reading from Genesis describes an awesome encounter between Abraham and the Lord. In this holy eucharist we too should be in awe as we approach the same Lord in the Eucharistic sacrifice. This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, happy are those who are called to his supper.
One role of a preacher is to awaken, sensitise and draw God’s people afresh into this great mystery of the Christian religion which centres on the Lamb of God our Saviour truly present in the sacrifice and sacrament of the altar. If we fully realised what was going on in this rite our amazement would soon infect others to join in the most significant happening on any day in Horsted Keynes!
Jesus St John says is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The sacrifice once offered on
Calvary and made present at this
altar is rooted in the history of God’s people and the eternal covenant.
Genesis Chapter 15 describes the institution of that covenant with Abraham by the shedding of blood, an agreement between man and God pledging loyalty even unto death. In the ancient world, when a covenant was ‘cut’ with the slaughter of lambs its breaking could be punishable by death. It also symbolised a death to independent living and the coming alive of a relationship or covenant.
In the covenant God made with Abraham there was a special sign. The sacrificed animals were consumed by a supernatural intervention interpreted as an anticipation of the new covenant. As the animal sacrifice was consumed by fire from heaven, so Jesus is to see his body and blood separated in death and then transformed by power from heaven in the glory of the resurrection.
So it is that in the Eucharist we witness the separate consecration of Christ’s body and blood. We pause devotionally on two occasions to recall the sacrificial sundering of the Lamb of God - this is my body...this is my blood...of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins
Some of us possibly visited the ‘Seeing Salvation’ exhibition at the turn of the Millennium 16 years ago at the National Gallery. One of the many images of Christ was this (show) - ‘The Bound Lamb’ by Francisco de Zurbarin who lived in the 17th century. It is an image that often appears on Nativity scenes, the Shepherds’ offering which anticipates Christ’s sacrifice.
As Jeremy Paxman wrote in the Church Times of this painting: ‘no image I know so perfectly captures the astonishing force of the Christian story’.
The sacrificial imagery in today’s Old Testament links to this symbol of Christ as Lamb of God so familiar to us from the liturgy of the Eucharist - familiar and yet often rather empty of meaning to many of us until we examine the Old Testament roots as we are doing this morning.
How often we hear those words ‘Lamb of God’? How much we need to ‘inhabit the words’ of our prayer and liturgy and not be empty ritualists!
There is a Church in
, I’m told, which has the
image of a sheep sculpted half way up its tower. Only when people enter that Church and hear
something of its history do they discover the full Christian significance of
the sculpted sheep. Norway
Years before the sculpture was erected some renovation work was occurring on the Church steeple in this rural community. One day a workman slipped from the steeple to almost certain death. At the same time by a remarkable twist of providence a flock of sheep was being driven past the Church.
The steeplejack fell on a sheep and his fall was cushioned. The sheep died to save him - an awesome happening! The workers expressed their gratitude to God by adorning that Church tower with a sculpted sheep.
Jesus is the Lamb of God whose voluntary sacrifice takes away our sin. Our Lord on
Calvary takes the
full impact of sin and death for us at the cost of his life.
Our Lord has soaked up all the evil that would defeat me and offered me life to the full - life that cancels sin with forgiveness, sickness with healing, bondage with deliverance and even doubt with the gift of faith through the mighty Redemption he has won.
All of this is powerfully present to me in every celebration of the Eucharist.
I cannot understand it but I will accept it. I cannot understand the way electricity works but that does not stop me switching on the lights. I take both on authority and it works to do so.
Jesus died in my place so that he might live in my place. Jesus died in my place to carry off the impact of evil upon me, through the gift of the Eucharist. Jesus lives in my place, cooperating with my will by his Spirit, as I welcome him again and again into my heart in this Sacrament!
This morning we make the memorial of the Offering of Jesus and enter into that Self-Offering! It is through the sacrificial Lamb of God that we can make a perfect offering to the Father, our sinful bodies made clean by his body..our souls washed through his most precious blood.
There is a deep continuity between the sacrifice of Abraham, the offering of Jesus the Lamb of God, the Eucharistic Sacrifice and our own sacrificial living as Christians. They all hang together. In a culture so full of self-interest what we are about this morning is powerfully counter-cultural. Here, in union with Christ, we are offering our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice
No wonder the eucharist has been described as ‘a meeting of rebels in a mammon-oriented society’. Sacrifice goes against the grain of our contemporary culture in many ways, especially voluntary sacrifice. People can make sacrifice when absolutely necessary - but to choose to give your life away Sunday by Sunday - well that’s heavily counter-cultural!
Faithful attendance and active participation in the eucharist is our great reminder day by day of God’s call for us to direct our energies more and more away from the service of self and more and more towards his service. This self-offering is, in the words of the Eucharistic Prayer both ‘right’ and also ‘a good and joyful thing’.
Sacrifice is at heart about this voluntary choice about how we direct our lives - it is about love before it is about death. It is about ‘joyous living’ just as sure as ‘God loves a cheerful giver’. It is not so much about forgoing what we desire but of binding our energies to what God desires.
Here in this Eucharist week by week we’re drawn into such a school of sacrifice, into a love which touches every human concern upon the earth. We are caught up again and again into the loving sacrifice of Christ and its profound challenge to our self-interest. In offering our lives once again this morning we’re entrusting them afresh into the hands of God, renewing our covenant with him, so as to be employed to his praise and service in every situation we shall face in the coming week. In the name of the Father…