March 30, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Letter to the Hebrews for Holy Week

John F. FinkThe biblical readings for Holy Week in the Office of Readings are from the Letter to the Hebrews just as they are this week for the Fifth Week of Lent. I wrote last week about the first eight chapters of that book.

For Palm Sunday and Monday, the readings are from Chapter 10. This chapter begins by emphasizing again that Jesus abolished the first covenant with the Jews to establish the second. Jesus, it says, is unlike those priests who offer again and again the same sacrifices. Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins and took his seat forever at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:12).

In light of this, Hebrews says that Christians must remain faithful to the practice of their religion. “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another” (Heb 10:25).

The readings then jump to Chapter 12 for Tuesday and Wednesday. It is an exhortation to faith, loyalty, endurance and hope. The Jewish Christians are encouraged to endure their trials as God’s discipline, remembering how Christ endured the opposition of sinners.

For Holy Thursday, the reading backs up to Chapter 4:14 through Chapter 5:10. We read about Jesus the high priest on the day we celebrate the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the institution of the Eucharist, and empowerment of the Apostles and their successors to do as Jesus did.

Hebrews combines what we call both “high” and “low” Christologies. Jesus is God’s Son, but he is also fully human.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned” (Heb 4:15).

Priests do not take the honor of the priesthood upon themselves, Hebrews says, “but only when called by God” (Heb 5:4). Therefore, “It was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: ‘You are my son; this day I have begotten you’ [quoting Psalm 110:4]” (Heb 5:5).

For Good Friday, we move to Chapter 9:11-28, which is about the sacrifice of Jesus. Here, Hebrews tells us that, when Christ came as high priest, he entered once for all into the sanctuary “not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, and achieved eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). That, of course, is what we commemorate on Good Friday.

However, it says that “Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might appear before God on our behalf” (Heb 9:24).

It says that both the first covenant made with God by Moses and the second covenant made by Jesus were accomplished with the shedding of blood.

For Holy Saturday, the Office of Readings returns to Chapter 4:1-13. This is encouragement to enter into the Lord’s rest: “A sabbath rest still remains for the people of God. And he who enters into God’s rest, rests from his own work as God did from his. Let us strive to enter into that rest” (Heb 4:9-11). †

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