We have been using the chalice in the Divine Service at Good Shepherd for several months now, and I think it is safe to say that we have arrived at a comfortable rhythm in using it. I personally had never celebrated the Sacrament using a chalice, since my previous congregation did not have one either. It’s one thing to think about the mechanics of how you are going to do things at the altar, it’s another thing to actually do them and then feel comfortable. The latter only occurs over time through repetition. Yet after a few months, things now feel quite natural.
I think the addition of the chalice has added to the reverence and richness of the celebration of the Sacrament. As we follow our Lord’s institution of the Sacrament and how he took the cup, it is beneficial that we actually have a cup too. The presence of the chalice has allowed for the elevation of Christ’s body and blood. This is an action that confesses what Jesus’ words have just said, namely that the pastor holds the true body and blood of Jesus Christ. And it has allowed the presentation of the host over the chalice to the congregation during the singing of the Pax Domini. The pastor sings, “The peace of the Lord be with you always” as he holds up before the congregation the reason we have peace – the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. And just as these words also remind us of the need to be at peace with one another as we prepare to receive the Sacrament, so the presence of a common up serves as a symbol of the Sacrament’s unique nature – that it is the sacrament of unity as Jesus joins us together.
Now these are all good things. But we should not lose sight of the fact that use of the chalice has meant more work for the ladies of the altar guild. Naturally it has involved dealing with more vessels. And something that may not realize is that it has meant more washing and cleaning of linens.
The purificators that are used during distribution to wipe off the rim of the chalice must be washed after they are used on Sunday. And then, while we are all very careful, drips do occur during the set up and the administration of the sacrament. The corporal on which the communion vessels sit, and even the white fair linen that covers the top of the altar sometimes need to be cleaned in order to remove stains.
Now I greatly appreciate the extra effort the altar guild ladies are providing so that we can use the chalice at Good Shepherd. Yet at the same time, when I describe the cleaning that is sometimes necessary, we get insight into how different worship is under the new covenant inaugurated by Jesus Christ. The worship of the first covenant – the old covenant – was a bloody, gory business. It involved the slaughtering of animals and all the mess that entails. It involved the actual sprinkling of blood. In the worship of the tabernacle and temple this messy enterprise is something that had to go on day after day, year after year. It did until Jesus Christ appeared and brought the consummation of the age as he offered himself once and for all as the sacrifice for our sin.
In our text this morning, the writer to the Hebrews is in the process of describing how Jesus Christ is the high priest of a new and better covenant. One of the ways that he does this is by contrasting the nature of the sacrifice offered and how it was presented to God.
When I look out this morning, I enjoy seeing the carpet that we now have in the sanctuary. I think it looks great and is such an improvement. But as many of you know, it is not as if the replacement of the carpet was a swift decision. Oh, we all knew that we wanted to get rid of the old carpet with all of its stains in the back of the nave. But how exactly to do that was a matter of much discussion and indecision in the congregation. It took a long time before we decided on what we were going to put in – though I am told that this was accomplished faster than the decision about buying a lawn mower.
The Israelites did not face any such indecision when it came to the setting of their worship … because they had no decision to make. Instead, God told them exactly how it was going to be. In Exodus chapter 24, God enters into the covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai. Then at the beginning of chapter 25 we read, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.”
God gave them the pattern for the tabernacle and the items used there, and in four chapters of Exodus we then find God’s description of them. What is more, we learn later that God chose a man named Bezalel from the tribe of Judah and filled him with the Spirit of God and knowledge to make these things.
We learn in 1 Chronicles that something very similar happened again when it was time to build the temple in Jerusalem. David gave Solomon the plan for the temple that he had received from the Lord. In both, the structure and its furnishings followed God’s pattern – a pattern that reflected the heavenly reality here on earth.
From the time of Moses until the coming of Christ sacrifices were offered. The blood of animals was used daily in the rites God had commanded. Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the inner portion, the Holy of Holies, and sprinkled blood on cover of the Ark of the Covenant.
This went on day after day, year after year … until Good Friday. For on that day the sacrifice occurred in which all of the Old Testament sacrifices found fulfillment. When this happened, Jesus Christ did not use the blood of animals. He did not do not offer a sacrifice that would need to be repeated. And he did not offer it in a copy of the heavenly reality.
The writer to the Hebrew tells us in our text, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” Jesus Christ offered himself once and for all as the sacrifice on the cross. He offered his own blood as the sacrifice to redeem us from sin. And it was an offering presented before God himself in heaven. By this unique and one time event, our Lord began a new covenant that fulfills, and yet moves beyond the first covenant with Israel.
A little later in this chapter, we read, “Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
Jesus Christ has put away sin and brought the new covenant by his death and resurrection. He has brought the new covenant about which God said through Jeremiah, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” He has brought the new covenant that includes Jew and Gentile – that includes you.
This message of forgiveness is one that you need to hear, because you have sins. You aren’t all that different from ancient Israel. You may not worship a bronze calf or a Baal or an Asherah pole, but you worship things other than the one true God. You put other things first in your life and at times they become your true God such as wealth, hobbies, sports and leisure. Just as the Israelites selfishly looked out for themselves and neglected or even harmed others and were condemned by the prophets for this, so also you put yourself and your needs ahead of those around you. Just as Israel failed to teach God’s word diligently to their children and failed to make God’s word the focus of their life at home, so do you.
Because this describes our sin as fallen people, we continually need comfort. We need encouragement. And that’s what God gives us in his word this morning. Indeed our text goes on to say, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
The sacrifice for your sin has been offered once and for all. Jesus Christ through the eternal Spirit offered himself to God as the sacrifice without blemish for you. He didn’t do it in some copy, but instead he presented his sacrifice in the presence of God himself. And so his blood makes you holy before God. You are forgiven.
You know this because you are baptized. And because you know this, the writer to the Hebrews says that you can approach God in the confidence of faith. He writes in the next chapter, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
This is what God has done for you in Christ Jesus. This is what God has made you to be. And therefore, through the work of the Spirit we find the courage to continue to confess the faith in the world. And we also seek act in love towards those around us. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way as whe summed up what the forgiveness we have received in Christ means for us: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”