I was not proud of something I said this last week, in an uncontrolled outburst, and even after apologizing, repenting, and receiving forgiveness from the injured party, a cloud still hovered over my heart. My heart was torn. Was I carrying false guilt?
I carried the cloud to church today, and when I left church, the cloud was gone. My heart was mended.
How did that happen? I feel reborn.
Did the priest’s absolution really cause such a miracle to occur? I believe it did. When I sinned, I sinned against God as well as man. And while I had confessed to God privately, his Church had not absolved me. Today God absolved me through the Church, sacramentally. The tear around my heart was mended with this blood, and I received Christ in the chalice as though receiving a blood transfusion.
Today is New Year’s Day. It is also, in the Church Year, the Octave (8th day) of Christmas and the Circumcision of Christ, a day when we consider the meaning of this seemingly foreign and strange act. And the meaning wove through my heart and soul, for it was all about blood and sacrifice and, yes, transfusion.
Our preacher spoke of these things. He spoke of Christ’s circumcision. Man from the earliest days sensed an innocent, blood sacrifice was needed to appease the gods, and a firstborn child was often offered in those ancient cultures of Mesopotamia. When God called Abraham out of this world, he ordered a substitutionary sacrifice, an animal sacrifice, as well as the rite of circumcision, the sign of his covenant with his people. In this covenant God regulates the sacrifice to become the paschal sacrifice, the Passover Lamb, and finally himself, entering the world in the Incarnation, taking on our flesh. He became the final and fulfilling blood sacrifice, poured into the chalice, so that we may be fulfilled, full. Christ becomes the fulfillment of the law, not a denial of it. All that went before prepared the way for him, prepared for this blood to be shed for us. All of those generations, all of those centuries, prepared mankind for this one great redemptive act of God. Circumcision, our preacher said, is an evidence of the Incarnation, God coming among us for a reason. The law of Moses is a tutor that brings us to Christ.
My redemption this morning was real. I was set free, at least of my selfish acts to this point in time. They had no more power over me, could no longer weigh upon my heart and mind, no longer hover over me like a dark cloud. And I was given a way forward, a way to handle my selfish acts in the future. For we all fall short of perfection; we all sin. We all say what we regret, do what we shouldn’t, don’t do what we should. We are fallen creatures, but through penitence, forgiveness, and Christ’s blood sacrifice, the tears in our hearts are healed. We partake of his Body and his Blood.
When, in Jewish tradition, the child was circumcised, he was named. The blood offering became one with the identity of the child, now a child of God. When Christ came in history, when he took on our flesh and blood, circumcision was no longer needed. Christ’s blood sacrifice is enough for our covenant with God. So Christians are named in baptism, not circumcision. They are offered to God, becoming a part of his Church body in a bloodless rite of circumcision.
Who are we, what are we, as human beings on this earth, this spinning planet? We are creatures who belong to God, and he brings us back to himself with each sacramental offering – Baptism, the Eucharist, Confession, Absolution – through his Church. With each offering he fills us with his own lifeblood.
We begin a new year, 2012. We consider the last year and plan the next. I am full of thanksgiving that God loved us so that he came to us as he did, as a child in a manger, that he gave us a way out, a way forward, a way to truly love. He makes the crooked straight; wrong turns are righted; clouds no longer hover over us; torn hearts are mended.
Incarnation. Circumcision. Offering and re-offering. Penitence and absolution. The Holy Name of… Jesus.
Happy New Year!