For the next few weeks the Church will present excerpts from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews as our scripture for daily Mass.
The Letter to the Hebrews is a very interesting text. Tradition attributes the authorship to St. Paul and though it is presented as a letter, it is more like a theological essay than a letter. The content of the Letter to the Hebrews is a careful description of the fundamental revelation of the Church’s faith- the revelation of Christ, who is God and as God, has done something absolutely extraordinary.
What has God in Christ done?
He has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life, and in doing so has accepted all the raw facts of human existence, most importantly, the experience of death. Through all this, God in Christ has accomplished the reconciliation of humanity and God- overcoming the estrangement of God and humanity that happens as a result of human sinfulness.
The death of Christ is of profound significance, for nothing better represents estrangement from God than the power of death. Yet in Christ, this estrangement is transformed into communion, as God in Christ, who experiences death for himself, does this, so that he might meet us in our own experience of death. Death is not an end, oblivion, annihilation, but instead it is an encounter with God in Christ. It is this encounter that is the consummation and fulfillment of human existence.
Because of God in Christ’s acceptance of a human nature, he truly experiences suffering, which he accepts as a sign of his love for us and through his willingness to suffer, God in Christ reveals the perfection of his love for us. God in Christ could have just declared his love for us and this would have been sincere and true, but the love that God in Christ reveals is deeper and more profound than merely a declaration- he does not just say he loves us, but shows us his love in actions that give gravity and weight to his words. God in Christ’s love manifested in actions necessitates sufferings, and these sufferings he accepts, so that we might know the depth of his love for us.
Thus, when the Church presents the sufferings of Christ to us, the purpose is not to insist that Christ simply dies tragically as a victim of injustice, but that in his sufferings we see just how much God in willing to show his love for us. God in Christ knows for himself, experiences for himself, the raw facts of what it means to be human, even what it means to suffer, even what it means to die. God does not exist at a distance from human experience, but in Christ, immerses himself into human experience, so that from within our humanity, he can reveal his divinity and make himself known (to us).
There is another great theme of the Letter to the Hebrews that I hope to speak about in the coming weeks, and this is the theme of worship. The Letter to the Hebrews describes what the Church’s worship is all about, insisting that the manner in which the Church worships is not just an expression of human culture, but is itself a revelation of God and a participation in and a real encounter with, here and now, God in Christ.
A personal encounter with Christ happens, not just in ideas or feelings, but in the Church’s worship- this personal encounter happens in the Mass.
In Christ’s Gospel, the revelation of Christ the Lord, often provokes opposition, particularly the opposition of dark and fallen spiritual powers. The world into which God in Christ enters is afflicted not just with human wickedness, but also with the wickedness of the devil.
Both worldly and spiritual powers rage against God in Christ, but he overcomes them and banishes dark spiritual powers with a mere word.
The dark powers will rage in defiance of Christ, even strike out against him, but in the end, he prevails.
The most devastating of dark powers lurk not simply outside of us, but within- in our own opposition to Christ that manifests itself in our refusals to love, in our refusals to serve.
Opposition to Christ enervates us in a manner similar to that of a fever that compromises our health and vitality. Only when delivered from our opposition to Christ, from our refusals to love and serve, will we be able to engage the mission he gives to us.
Let us pray that we might be delivered from the dark powers that afflict us, from our refusals to love and our refusals to serve, and once healed of our feverish opposition to Christ, we might dedicate ourselves, wholly and completely to the mission that he gives to us.