Flesh and blood

The Presentation of our Lord; Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40.

We don’t often get to observe the Feast of the Presentation on a Sunday, so we don’t often get to hear these readings. Luke is very careful to tell us that everything necessary under the law had been fulfilled for Jesus. In part, he does this in order to show that, as far as Gentiles are concerned, Jesus has set some aspects of the law aside. The order of the law has been fulfilled, and we now live under the order of the Spirit.

The readings from Malachi and the Letter to the Hebrews, however, extend Luke’s concern for the law. When Christians reorganized the Hebrew scriptures, we put Malachi at the end of our Old Testament (the Tanakh ends with the books of the Chronicles, which ends with the edict of Cyrus for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem). Malachi closes with the figure of Elijah, who is to return before the Day of the Lord, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and children to their fathers. And, if we are willing to accept it (says Jesus), John the Baptist is Elijah.

So, while the Tanakh exists as an etiology for the Jerusalem Temple, the Christian Old Testament is arranged to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises. In the particular portion of Malachi that we read for the Presentation, we are told that the Lord will return to the Temple. Malachi was written after the return from Exile, but before the rededication of the Temple. By connecting this passage with Jesus’ Presentation, the designers of the lectionary have connected Jesus with the Lord returning to the Temple. I think Luke would agree.

The Letter to the Hebrews contains an extended meditation on Jesus as the new high priest, who has entered into the real sanctuary with his own flesh and blood. The Letter to the Hebrews carries on an extended argument about Jesus’ high priesthood as superior to that of the ancient period, because he has entered the true holy of holies, with his own blood, not the blood of bulls and goats. And since he enters the holy of holies in the flesh and blood which he shares with us, we have the promise that we, too, will enter with him. In the meantime, he makes intercession for us.

In the wake of the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the question for the various Judaisms, among them Christianity, was where the encounter with God took place. For Luke, it was in the Spirit-filled community. For the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, it was in prayer offered through Jesus. For us, it is in the presence of the flesh and blood of Jesus. When we offer our common life under the signs of bread and wine, we share in the high priesthood of Jesus, making intercession for the world.

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