For if the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of an heifer, being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13-14)The Epistle to the Hebrews has always been my favorite book of Scripture, even as a Protestant. This message is the reason why. I also believe that this is the message of our liturgy today. When one truly understands this message, one cannot help but be filled with joy. If I can increase that message of understanding, then praise be to God. We are called to this praise in today's Introit, which calls us to "clap our hands" in joy over God's ruling over the universe. (Pslam 46:2-3) The Collect for today contains one of the greatest reasons for this joy:
O God, whose providence faileth not in its designs, we humbly entreat Thee, to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us all things which be profitable for us. Through our Lord... (Collect)Contained within this prayer is I believe the hardest message of Christianity. We sinful men are prideful beings. Everything must be about us. Our faults, our triumphs, if we cannot take the credit for them, we become angry, depressed, etc. Our first parents in the garden, they sinned through this pride. They wanted to become as God, to rule Eden on their own authority. The garden was to be their gift to themselves, not God's gift to them.
Today, we believe we can handle everything. Even within the Church, this mentality is pervasive. When we struggle with our sins, we believe "If I just say a few more prayers, do a few more penances, I can conquer these problems. If I do a few more things, I will master this." This is not to belittle the importance of penance, sacrifice, and striving for virtue. Yet does anyone notice who the focus is of this mentality? Me, me, ME. We want to do everything ourselves.
The message of the Gospel and today's liturgy is different. They tell us "You cannot conquer on your own. Strive as you might against these sins and problems, you can never take them away. Only God can conquer sin. Only God has conquered sin. He conquered sin by His own blood which He shed on the cross. Unless we allow the blood of Christ to cleanse us, we are doomed. Why are we doomed? As always, St. Paul sheds tremendous insight:
We cannot overcome sin on our own devices because we are servants to sin through the sin of our parents in the garden. While our freedom is not extinguished, it is greatly weakened and corrupted, twisted into the service of sin. All our prayers, our penances, our good works, if done on their own account, are still done in sin. They may be of some use, but they can never truly conquer iniquity, for we serve iniquity.
Brethren, I speak a human thing, because of the infirmity of your flesh for as you have yielded your members to serve uncleanness and iniquity for iniquity, so now yield your members to serve justice unto sanctification. For when you were the servants of sin, you were free from justice. What fruit therefore had you then in those things, of which you are now ashamed? For the end of them is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end life everlasting. For the wages of sin is death. But the grace of God, is life everlasting in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Epistle, Romans 6:19-23)
Instead, Paul counsels us to service justice and righteousness. Notice he says serve. He does not say "become." He does not say we can do this all on our own, that it is within our own power. Instead, the wages of doing everything on our own are death. Only through Christ and His Blood can we have life everlasting.
The story of St. Cyprian in instructive. He recalls how upon coming to Christ, he kept trying to do this or that to overcome his sins, and not only would he fail, he would end up worse. He only was able to change once he realized that Christ had already taken away those sins. He could only choose then to serve the one who did it. Once he stopped trying to conquer everything himself, he was able to overcome those sins.
Yet what are we to do once we accept the Blood? The Gospel tells us:
At that time Jesus said to His disciples: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit,neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth; good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them. Not every one that saith of Me: Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven but he that doeth the will of My Father Who is in Heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 7:15-21)While many people use this Gospel to justify what is called the discernment of spirits, I believe there is another way we can go with this. How are we able to bring forth good fruit? Our Lord tells us that we do so by doing the will of the Father. Yet why does this bear good fruit? This is where the passage I quoted from Hebrews comes into play. When the Blood of Christ has cleansed us, we also ask God to place within us that which is good. We want to make the blood beneficial. Of what benefit is redemption if we continue in our former ways? That's the entire point of Paul's writings. We are not to live lives in sin because we have been freed from sin's domination. Once we have been freed from sin, God calls us to Himself, to give us what we were promised from the beginning.
If people live this way, that is how we know they are truly in Christ. Let us always remember the power of the Blood of Christ to cleanse us from our sins, and give us life everlasting.