There are two distinct experiences of God expressed in today’s readings. On the one had, there is that experience of God that is totally fearful: that God is too awesome to behold and no one can look upon him and live. That was generally the experience of God that the ancient Israelites had. If we think about it, many of us have or have had this same kind of experience as well. We may have grown up with this image of God as a policeman or dictator who watches over our every move and punishes us for all of our iniquities.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews, though, says that there is another experience of God. This experience is of God who is glorious and loving, and calls us to worship him in festive assembly. This is the experience of God brought about by the new creation: Jesus having fulfilled the Paschal Mystery now makes it possible for us to approach our God without so much fear and trembling, but rather with joy that comes from our salvation.
Now just as an aside, I would want to mention that these two experiences of God are not necessarily mutually exclusive, unless we ourselves make them that way. Because we have to be very careful to remember that God is still awesome and incomprehensible, and the experience of gazing on his face may still be quite frightening. But because of the salvation we have in Christ, that fear can be overcome and we can rejoice in our awesome God.
But now let’s look at that experience of God of which our second reading speaks. Listen again to what is proclaimed to the Hebrews:
You have approached Mount Zion
and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,
and God the judge of all,
and the spirits of the just made perfect,
and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,
and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
What we have here is a vision of the heavenly worship. We are all gathered in the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. And gathered there are the angels, the saints, the purified souls of the faithful departed, God who is the judge of all and Jesus who makes possible our salvation. But it’s not just who is there, it’s the way they are there. The angels are in festal gathering, the firstborn are enrolled in heaven, the just are made perfect. This is the story of the Communion of Saints, brothers and sisters, and it is our hope.
Because if this is the image of the heavenly worship, and if that worship centers around Jesus whose sprinkled blood speaks more eloquently than that of Abel, then we who receive his precious body and blood in the Eucharist can hope to join that heavenly worship in the life to come. There all of our defects will be made clean and all of our brokenness will become whole. Our imperfect worship here on earth will be purified and made glorious with all God’s holy ones.
As we come to the Eucharist today, that table of the Lord to which has been invited all the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, we must remember with great humility that our God is awesome and beyond us and fearsome, but also gentle, and with us and our salvation. May we receive his precious body and sprinkled blood which gives us life forever, knowing that our worship is practice for that great day when we can finally join the heavenly worship with all the angels and saints, all the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and all the just made perfect. Because the heavenly worship space is the home that, as our Psalmist says today, God in his goodness has made for all of us who are poor.