“[Christ] is mediator of a new covenant.”
Tuesday, 8 June 2021
Yesterday we talked about covenants and God’s covenant with Israel. Today we look at how an ancient Christian text – commonly called the ‘Letter’ to the Hebrews, but more accurately the ‘Sermon’ to the Hebrews – reconfigured the idea of covenant.
Hebrews claims that Christ is the mediator of the new covenant of God with…everyone. The text rethinks the idea of priesthood – Christ is the high priest who is also the final sacrifice. Where sacrifice in the ancient world was focused on forgiveness of sins, with the offerings (usually crops or animals) standing in for the sins of the community, Christ is the sinless one whose offering of himself utterly subverts the sacrificial system. After Christ, no other sacrifice makes sense. There is no longer any need for further sacrifice, not even for a covenant with God.
Think about it. In old covenants, the ‘lesser’ partner offers sacrifices as a sign of loyalty to the ‘greater’ party. But here, the ‘greater’ party makes the sacrifice – and the sacrifice is Christ himself. It is a covenant of pure gift, pure grace. There is no longer the element of threat that ancient covenants entailed, where the lesser party always stood in awe of the greater, where failure to keep up their side of the deal could have nasty consequences, and at the very least, demand more sacrifices to repair the damage.
The deal is done, once for all, for all time. God (the ‘greater party’) has freely and fully embraced us in love and has promised that this covenant is permanent. The only ‘obligation’ we have is to accept God’s love and respond as best we can to the free gift.
What does that mean for us? Do we really understand this sense of God’s free gift? Or do we still relate to god as ancient subordinate people’s did to the great powers that dominated them?