Your Day of Atonement is Coming

The Fifth Sunday of Lent, St Mary of Egypt

Heb 9:11-14

Mark 10:32-45

As Christians, we tend to focus on the New Testament, on Christ and the Apostles, on the Church.  After all, Christ did away with the Law of Moses, correct? 

Well, no.  Christ fulfilled the Law.  The Law wasn’t done away with. The author of Hebrews says a little bit before today’s reading, “When there is a change of priesthood, there is necessarily a change of law as well”. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God said, “Days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people”.  Remember the words of Jesus during the consecration? “This is my blood of the New Covenant”.

Christ is high priest according to the Order of Melchizedek, the priesthood of that New Covenant. The priesthood of the Old Covenant is the Levitical priesthood, the priesthood of Aaron.  There has been a change in the priesthood.

But that doesn’t mean that the Law isn’t worthy of our attention.  Shortly after our reading, the author of Hebrews tells us that the Law was given as a shadow of the good things to come, that is, of the Gospel. 

Christ is the Eternal High Priest of the good things which have come, of the New Covenant, the Gospel.

The passage makes reference to the one time of the year, under the Law of Moses, which absolutely requires the High Priest’s ministry, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.  

For the week before that day, the priest would fast and pray, maintaining ritual purity.  The mention of the heifer’s ashes reflects their use in the ritual of purity from contact with dead bodies and graves. 

On the day, the priest would make a number of sacrifices. Besides the daily sacrifices, there would be sin offerings - a young bull, one ram, and seven first year lambs. Two goats were selected, one for sacrifice, and one which would bear the sins of the people and be sent into the wilderness - the scapegoat.

The ritual required the high priest to change his garments a number of times, each time (except the last) he wore simple, unadorned linen, which spoke of purity and humility before God.  There were no lavish vestments until the very end of the rite.  And with each change of garments, he also was bathed.

The blood of the various sacrifices was taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled - originally on the Ark of the Covenant, and then, in the Second Temple, built after the Ark was lost at the time of the Babylonian invasion, the blood was sprinkled on what was called “The Foundation Stone” - probably the rock now housed in The Dome of the Rock.

I mentioned the scapegoat.  What happened was that two goats were chosen. They were meant to be virtually identical.  Basically, by drawing lots, the high priest chose one to be sacrificed, and one to be the scapegoat. He placed his hands upon the scapegoat and transferred all the sins of the people  for the last year to it.  It was then led out of the temple, to go into the wilderness, never to be seen again.

So, how does all of this apply to us?

First of all, he is the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world. 

As high priest, it is His own blood that he sprinkles on the Ark of the Covenant in heaven. As our epistle reading says, “He entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption”

He doesn’t need constant purification with a heifer’s ashes.  He is by nature pure.

And the scapegoat? HE has become our scapegoat. As the prophet Isaiah says, “We had all gone astray like sheep, all following our own way; But the LORD laid upon him*the guilt of us all”.

The Day of Atonement is a shadow of Christ’s sacrifice, certainly.  But how does it differ?

In two ways.  One - when the sins of the people are transferred to the scapegoat, the sins are still there.  The goat carries the sins into the wilderness.  With Christ, though, our sins are gone. As the psalmist says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us”.

The other difference is that the Day of Atonement was repeated, year after year.  The sins which are transferred to the goat are only those sins for the past year! But Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to cover all sins, for all time.

Under the Law, if you sin the day AFTER Atonement and repent immediately, you bear that sin for the whole year until the next Day of Atonement.  With the Gospel, if you sin, you can get forgiveness upon repentance (and confession).

Yes, every Eucharist is a sacrifice, but it’s not a new sacrifice.  The priest re-presents the sacrifice of Calvary.

The Law was given as a shadow of the good things to come.  And that good thing is the Gospel. 

Our Day of Atonement happened close to 2000 years ago, and we celebrate it twelve days from now, on Good Friday.  But it’s a commemoration; it’s not a new, annual atonement.

Rejoice. You can live the life of Atonement today. You don’t have to wait until that one day of the year when the High Priest goes into the Holy of Holies.  And if you do have a sin that needs to be forgiven, forgiveness is available at any time.  

Glory be to Jesus Christ!!