“For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies 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. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” (Hebrews 9:13-15)
The “new covenant” of which the writer to the Hebrews speaks here is the same “new covenant” of which the prophet Jeremiah announced some 600 years before its time. “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…” (Jer.31:31).
It is not that this “new covenant” gives anything different or more than the “old covenant” gave. The “Old Covenant” gave ‘forgiveness of sins’ and the ‘promised eternal inheritance’ just like the new covenant does.
And it’s not that what is being introduced here a “new and improved” version of the old and outdated version of the Covenant. It’s impossible to IMPROVE on God’s promises no matter how long ago He made them and no matter how much this world has changed because God doesn’t change.
And it’s not that what God had promised all along was finally going to happen as if to say, “Now, this time, I really, really mean it.”
No, when it says that Jesus is the “mediator of a NEW COVENANT,” it means that unlike the OLD COVENANT that was sealed and ratified by the sacrifice and blood of lambs and goats, the “NEW COVENANT” is sealed and ratified by the sacrifice and blood of the Lamb of God. “This is the cup of the new covenant in MY blood,” He says.
This is why the Letter to the Hebrews calls Jesus “our Great High Priest.” He establishes the new covenant, “not by means of the blood of goats and calves, which is what all of the Old Testament priests did, because it was all that they could do. If they HAD offered their own body and blood, it would have meant nothing, and done nothing, either for themselves or for the people because they were not INNOCENT. In fact they were more guilty than those poor lambs and goats that were sacrificed in their place. Bodies rotting away with sin and blood contaminated with guilt do not a worthy offering make.
And although the lambs and the goats and the bulls that were sacrificed on the altar may have been INNOCENT enough, they are after all, only ANIMALS. Which is a total mismatch and completely unfair. It is the offering of the lesser for the greater. That’s why it had to be repeated every day.
But in so far as these sacrifices POINTED TO the ONE SACRIFICE for all that would be THE GREATER FOR THE LESSER, and in so far as men and women looked in faith to the One to whom these animals pointed, they received REAL forgiveness and real salvation though them.
“But by means of HIS OWN BLOOD, He entered ONCE, FOR ALL into the Holy Place, thus securing an eternal redemption. 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…” (Heb.9:12-14).
We may be more accustomed to calling a covenant that is established by death, a “LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT.” This is precisely what Jesus is establishing here in the Upper Room.
The timing is critical. He is about to be handed over into the hands of sinful men, crucified and die. Once He leaves this Upper Room, He will not have another chance to take care of these important matters that MUST be taken care of before His death. And so here, in this Upper Room, He establishes His LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT to pass on to those who will be the heirs of His estate – which is nothing less than the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
The writer to the Hebrews confirms what we all understand as the legal way a “Last will and testament” is put into effect. “For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.” (Heb.9:17).
It is His death that will establish His “last will and testament” as binding, irrevocable, unchangeable. Once the one who made the WILL dies, the WILL cannot be altered.
When the one who has made out his WILL dies, the family comes together to hear the will read. This is also what is happening in Upper Room. Jesus is reading the terms of the will to the family members whom He has gathered together.
His disciples are, in turn, to read the will to all the family where ever and whenever they gather together so that they too may hear that they are also named in this WILL and are to receive the inheritance.
This is what the word, “remembrance” means. You REMEMBER a “last will and testament” by reading it out loud; by proclaiming it. When we say to someone, “remember me to so and so,” what we mean is that we want them to speak our name to them and bring our greetings to them.
These words, “do this in remembrance of me” mean so much more than that this Sacrament is to be a reminder of our Lord’s suffering and death like we remember a loved one who has died by talking about him or looking at old photos.
Nor is this “remembrance” to be thought of as a reenactment of the historical event of the “Last Supper” as though it were a play to be acted out.
“Do this in remembrance of me” means that this NEW COVENANT is to be READ TO THE FAMILY and administered according to HIS WORD. AND IT MEANS that those who participate in it actually receive the inheritance that He has WILLED to us in this SACRAMENT – the forgiveness of our sins, life and salvation.
This covenant is a “PERPETUAL COVENANT.” Once it is established it remains in force perpetually, or until it becomes obsolete – which it will when Christ comes again.
It is also an “OPEN COVENANT.” As often as other men and women become members of the family of God through the NEW BIRTH OF THE SPIRIT in HOLY BAPTISM, they too now become heirs of the gifts here given as often as they participate in it. It is the sign of the cross written upon our forehead and upon our heart, that marks us as one redeemed by Christ the crucified AND that designates you as an heir of this covenant.
This also means that every time we “do this in remembrance of Him,” we make a public profession of our faith. We gather together to receive this last will and testament IN PUBLIC, as members of the family of God. We publicly proclaim His death and His resurrection and His coming again to all who see us eat of this bread and drink of this cup along with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In remembrance of Him, we proclaim what He has WILLED to us using His own words. “Take and eat, this is my body, given for you.” “Take and drink this is my blood, shed for you.”
A special word of caution is in order here. We dare not change these words nor reinterpret them in any way NOW THAT He has sealed this will by His death.
We may not read philosophy into these words to say that this is a ‘bloodless sacrifice’ of Christ’s body and blood that we are offering up to God, as though our inheritance depends on our making worthy sacrifice to God.
Nor may we read human reason into these words to say that this is a symbol of His body and blood or that it is His spiritual body and spiritual blood that only symbolically point to the forgiveness of our sins.
Strictly according to His own words, we receive what the NEW COVENANT says, this is the crucified, resurrected and ascended body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given to us in the bread and the wine for us to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins.
We should realize that every time we gather for the reading and the hearing of this Last Will and Testament of our Lord, we are entering into the deep mystery of divine mercy. We cannot fully comprehend what is happening here. We simply trust in His Word.
Nor do we think that we must become worthy to receive this holy gift. In fact, we confess that we are not worthy, but that we are sons and daughters of the one, true God. We come at His own invitation, an invitation that we dare not refuse. An invitation based solely on His own outlandish grace and foolish love for sinners.
This table is reserved for sinners only – sinners who desire to be holy and to be done with their sin. It is no place for sinners who have no desire or intention of putting away their sin. We come to this table fully believing and expecting that the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, will purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
We therefore receive these gifts with grateful, humble hearts. We come with our hat in hand, our confession on our lips and with sincere intention to repent and turn away from the sin He has paid the ultimate price to forgive. We come swearing we will never sin again, yet knowing we will be back again for more grace.
In remembrance of Him, we proclaim that we are totally unworthy of such an inheritance as this, but that it is Christ our Lord who makes us worthy because He desires to give Himself to us in this meal.
In Holy Baptism, God made our body His Temple. We were made Temples of the Holy Spirit. Now in Holy Communion, Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, enters in our heart which is now THE HOLY PLACE of His Temple, with His body and blood for our purification.
In this meal, we are receiving in the present a foretaste of the feast that is still in the future. We receive it, not as appetizer before the main course – but as the choicest meats and the finest wines that we have not yet learned how to fully enjoy and appreciate as we one day shall.
As we take our place at this table here, so shall we take our place at the heavenly banquet table, where our Lord will not present Himself to us hidden under bread and wine, but as He is. And we will be like Him.
Let us then administer and receive the Testament.