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23 April 2020

The necessary prelude

Dr Michael Gladwin, Senior Lecturer in Church History at St Mark’s, reflects on the picture of God’s forgiveness and suffering as the necessary prelude to kingly glory.   

In this season of Easter our readings help us to more deeply comprehend the significance of what we have been celebrating. In our Old Testament reading (Leviticus 16:20-34) we see the four main movements in the annual ritual drama of the atonement: the first three involved the sprinkling of blood—the primary, costly means of ritual cleansing and atoning sacrifice (for all, including the priests) that enable human entry into the Most Holy Place. The climax and the most public and visible part was the driving off of the scapegoat, with the sins of all people symbolically laid on it, and carried far away.

It’s a picture of God forgiving sin and cleansing from its defilement, but also removing it out of sight and memory. All of this points, of course, to Christ, and is superseded by him, where he has opened the way into the very presence of God by his blood (q.v. the letter to the Hebrews). His sacrifice was not for his own sake, need never be repeated, and has eternal efficacy. Every believer, therefore, not only may but should come frequently and with confidence to the place where the high priest could go only once a year.

I wonder whether Jesus used this passage from Numbers as he unpacked the events of Easter for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He notes too that suffering was a necessary prelude to the Messiah’s entry into kingly glory. We know from the rest of this passage in Luke that the disciples experienced a strange elation—their hearts burned within them—as Jesus gave his exegetical masterclass.

So too our psalms pick up this strange elation and joy in what God has done for them. The psalmist shows us a fitting response to the mercy and justice of God. Sometimes we do our sowing and work in this world with tears, just as Jesus noted that suffering was a necessary prelude to the Messiah’s entry into kingly glory, and just as those two disciples were sowing with tears before they met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. But we also recall Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for us, offered once for all, and we know that we shall also reap with songs of joy, and say with the psalmist, ‘Truly the Lord has done great things for us’.

This reflection was part of St Mark’s Chapel Service conducted online at 10:30am on Thursday 23 April 2020.

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