Monday, 8 May 2017

A Brief Homily Upon Hebrews 13:20-21:

Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen

It is always a delight to preach upon Hebrews; Not least because the book itself has been said to be, or to be composed of, a sermon itself. The author constructs for us, through-out the discourse, the image of Jesus Christ as both great High Priest and sacrificial victim. Nowhere else do we find such rich and direct language.

The book has much in common with the letters of Paul, perhaps we can imagine him preaching these words. Especially as here, as the book draws to a close, notice how the author draws all these themes together; and finally responds to the prayer request presented in the verses preceding ours with this benediction, which is so full of intercession and doxology - prayer and praise – as was the apostle’s style in his letters.

So, if we do find in the Book of Hebrews a sermon, it ends as perhaps all our sermons should end – by bringing to mind Jesus Christ, who is both shepherd and sacrificial sheep. Jesus Christ who is the object and subject of the whole revelation of God – whose peace we pray would transform us. Whose peace we pray would complete us.

As we read this prayer, and ponder the working of God’s eternal covenant – His immutable decree, his unchanging decision, to welcome us, and all His children, into the fellowship of adoptive-inheritance – we recognise in our own lives that we are not yet complete.

Perhaps we can sense a lacking of that peace, that peace which Paul the Apostle says transcends all understanding. The peace of God, which we invoke in our lives, and for each other – the peace we share when we meet together, not least when we meet together for the eucharist as we will this evening, is transformative. It changes us; not least because it is that serene conscience that comes, as the Book of Hebrews says, by the cleansing of our consciences from the deeds that lead to death – but also insofar as the peace of God readies us for labour.

The peace, the rest and salvation of God, is not an idle rest. It is not a salvation unto lethargy. Rather, it is a call to joyful work – to the doing of God’s will. If we are to take this prayer seriously, we will find that it demands of us Good works, works pleasing to God. But, these works are only possible for us insofar as they flow from that very peace, which God in knowledge of himself provides. He is the source of whom “all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works”, as we acknowledge when we pray for this very Peace at evening Prayer. Elsewhere, Paul prays for the saints at Colossae that God would fill them with ‘knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding that they may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, bearing fruit in every good work’. These prayers share a common intention, and a common understanding of the way that God works holiness in us, by the peace and spiritual wisdom that comes from being washed in the Word, as Paul says to the Ephesians.

We must ask, where does this peace come from? Interestingly, no-where in the Old Testament do we find God so named ‘the God of Peace’. In this precise form it is a construction, or rather a revelation, of the post-resurrection understanding of God. And it is this fact that finds us here, in our service of Thanksgiving for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ – we cannot now think of God as other than the God who in his fullness is revealed in the man Jesus, who lived, who died, and who rose again – leaning on another translation of this passage ‘who was led out from the dead by this God of peace’. It is this leading out from death that secures our peace won in blood and agony upon the cross, but vindicated and declared to the whole world that Easter morning as he rose to life victorious.

Our peace is a peace found in no-place other than the empty tomb; as we stand beside Peter and gaze upon the space once filled with the body of our Lord.  As he did, we too must believe. Not that the empty tomb itself can offer us anything, anything other than a sign, and a participation in the resurrection. Jesus is not here, he is risen. We do not worship the empty tomb, but the one who rose, according to his word. That word which spoke life into being, that word which speaks peace to us – to Him alone be the glory. “Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.

Amen”

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