Today’s Scripture readings (now yesterday’s readings thanks to the ebbs and flows of Motherhood) are some of my favorites when it comes to the Judeo-Christian relationship.
If you’ve been following along from my reflection on yesterday’s readings, then you will likely notice the readings often build upon one another. This helps to make a clean connection of dots in our journey toward greater understanding.
Today’s readings come from the Great Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews (12:18-18,21-24), Psalm 48:2-4,9-11, and Mark’s account of the Gospel of Christ (6:7-13). The Apostle to the Gentiles in his letter to the Hebrew fellowship is trying to help them see more clearly how Christ has brought us a newer, more glorious covenant with God. See if you can notice the difference:
“Brothers and sisters:
You have not approached that which could be touched
and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them. Indeed, so fearful was the spectacle that Moses said, “I am terrified and trembling.”
No, you have approached Mount Zion
and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,
and God the judge of all,
and the spirits of the just made perfect,
and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,
and the sprinkled Blood that speaks more eloquently
than that of Abel.
Why does Paul go to such lengthy efforts to make such a terribly long run-on sentence? Because Paul’s comparison is an important one for Christians who might be confused how to live out the New Covenant. Especially, for Jewish believers experiencing a deeper conversion in faith toward the reality that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. What we are approaching now is significantly different than what the Israelites approached in the desert.
You may recall from our meditations during Pentecost and the Days of Awe that precede it, the events at Mt. Sinai and in the Upper Room are intentionally similar yet significantly different.
The Fire on the Mountain that Paul describes in the first paragraph of his letter is the encounter the Israelites had with the Lord on Mt. Sinai. It was an encounter meant for all but only Moses was willing to receive it, and even he admits he was terrified and trembling. The result was that God had to stop communicating directly with the Israelites. Why? because they begged him to, Paul reminds us in his letter. From that moment forward, God would respect their wishes and only spoke to them through his appointed mouth piece, the prophets.
But all of that changed when Jesus came.
Paul exhorts us to embrace the reality of what we approach. It is not the fire on the mountain of Mt. Sinai that we now come before, it is Heaven on earth, Mt. Zion and the City of Peace meet together to reveal to us not just winds but the angels, not just blazing fire but the spirits of the just who are living flames of love we recognize as saints alive in Heaven, they enter in with the assembly of the firstborn whom Jesus raised to righteousness with him on that third day out of Hell. We don’t just encounter the glory of Moses, we encounter Jesus whose blood speaks more eloquently than Abel’s.
Have you ever thought about that? Read that last line again. When’s the last time you pondered what Jesus’ blood sounds like? It makes sense, right? If Abel’s blood can cry out so loud that God the Father would come down to ask, What have you done? How much more does the blood of Jesus speak?
In the wake of such ponderings, we can give our attention to Mark’s account with greater insight.
“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick
–no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.
He said to them,
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them.”
So they went off and preached repentance.
The Twelve drove out many demons,
and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
What use have we anymore of the Old Covenant prophets when we have been given the Prophet whose very mouth is the mouth of God! It is Jesus’ blood that speaks two-by-two and gives us authority over unclean spirits. It is by his voice that we are led into the darkness as a blazing fire giving a pathway to peace across the arid places. It is the Blood of Jesus which makes us a storm capable of shaking dust from our feet as we move from place to place. We no longer need to be terrified and tremble at the voice of God because by the blood of Jesus we have become his mouthpiece, not just Moses, but anyone who has been reborn by the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony. And what does he give his mouthpieces authority to do? Preach repentance. Wherever the preaching of repentance is allowed the kingdom of God has come. And even should the preaching not be received and the mighty deeds of repentance and forgiveness remain unseen, God’s mercy still casts out demons and heals the sick. Why? Because we no longer approach the terrifying Fire on the Mountain but the refining fire born from the sacrificing blood of Jesus now residing in our hearts.
It is for this reason that the Fire had to move from the Mountain to the sandaled feet of The Twelve and be breathed into the new temples erected by the blood of Jesus, by which you and I can exclaim like the Psalmist: O God, we ponder your mercy within your temple, because his temple rests not on Mt. Sinai but upon Mt. Zion, which is triumphed within our hearts, a city filled with peace a new Shalom, in the newly erected temples of our bodies raised up in us on that third day by the Blood of the Lamb which speaks even more eloquently than the blood of Abel. How’s that for a run-on-sentence.
Great is the LORD and wholly to be praised
in the city of our God.
His holy mountain, fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.