This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order. Hebrews 9, verses 9-10.
It’s just blood; it’s just water; it’s just wine and bread; they’re just words. They are…and they aren’t. That’s a mystery of the Christian faith, that the elements of our sacraments are both what the secular world says they are while also, at the same time, being exactly what God determines they are for their set-aside uses. When you figure it out, please notify theologians all across the globe. Differences about these things seem to be at the root of many, maybe most, of the ecclesiastical rubs throughout history. In my mom’s town in southeast Oklahoma, there (literally) are First, Second, and Third Baptist Churches in the same small town (as well as dozens of other churches) that all began as a larger, single church many years ago. The reason for the split? Differences in what people believe about holy communion and the shape of the sanctuary (yes, I said the shape of the building).
Stupid. Words mean things, and yet they don’t. It’s the heart behind the words – the intended meaning – that gives words power. It’s that heart with which God is most concerned, even as He also has His eye on us when we misuse the gift of language. Perhaps the best guide we could each use in watching our words is to think with the heart, thinking while trying to use God’s perspective. When we do that, we realize something: we don’t have to be right. Yesterday, Will Kemp, my pastor friend, brought up that very point. We don’t have to be right; we don’t have to have the last word. We can and should listen. We can and should watch our words with caring intent to build each other up.
I stink on ice at this concept. It’s one of my weak areas, one of the devil’s favorite attack points in my life. Pride, arrogance, insecurity, bullying, whatever: every pet sin of the moment causes me to want the last word, and I fall to it regularly. It’s hard for me to remember that words mean things even as I write thousands of them daily. As a result, I’m a hypocrite. I say one thing and do another far more than I wish I had to admit, but it’s true. This isn’t an excuse, just a statement of the way things are.
I suppose it’s something of a stretch to bind these Hebrews verses to the idea of pride, yet there is this related tie. Our words from don’t carry the gravity, the life, that they could if only we spoke them through Jesus. Food and drink are only food and drink if we eat them apart from communion. Words in a blog, email, or letter are just words unless we use them to edify others and increase God’s glory. Some words can be ordinary but important, and some others can immediately and always carry great weight. All of them should be used to the glory of God. Some meals are just fuel for the body but others mean something much more. You get the idea. Whatever we say or do, say or do it with God in the lead.
What’s more, the other important tie to remember is that the new covenant has replaced the old ones. My words, though uttered, are a thing of the past. I don’t have let my past rule me. It’s done with, and whatever is happening now, or could happen tomorrow, is where my focus needs to be. That’s where Jesus is focused: right now so that tomorrow can be better. The meal of holy communion was instituted as part of the traditional meal of the seder. We celebrate both in today’s world, and both are for the glory of God, yet only one carries the true body and blood of Jesus. But whether it’s bread and wine, steak and shrimp, or $1000 Beluga on those fishy little crisps of toast, do it to the glory of God. Remember, it’s just a meal when it isn’t.
And wish Pastor Will a happy birthday today; it’s his birthday. In doing so, thank him for the reminder that we don’t always have to be right.
For further reading: Hebrews 10:1, Leviticus 11:2-23, Numbers 6:3, Colossians 2:16, Leviticus 1:1, Hebrews 7:16
Lord, thank You for the new covenant that supersedes the old covenants. Thank You for using things I can understand to teach about Your higher meanings.