By the Cross, the Lord Became Our Great High Priest (Sun. March 19)

The word of the day is “offer.”  For the Orthodox, today is the mid-point of Great Lent, the Sunday of the Adoration of the Cross.  The Cross we exalt today is the center of the faith.  According to our reading of Hebrews 4:14-5:6, it was by the Cross that the Lord Jesus became our High Priest (OSB 4:14).  Thus, the apostle writes that God appointed Christ to offer “gifts and sacrifices for sin” as a priest (NKJV vs. 5:1).  Today, we view the Cross through the lens of the apostle’s teaching of Christ, the High Priest.

For the Orthodox, the Lord’s death on the Cross was no impersonal payment, no supernatural transaction to balance the scales of divine justice.  It was a voluntary and personal act of self-sacrifice.  By this self-giving act of sacrificial love, Christ freed us from the captivity to the powers of sin and death.

Christ Was Subject to Human Weakness

The apostle says in our reading that the Son of God identified Himself totally with us.  Therefore, He was “subject to weakness,” as we are.  The Greek word for “weakness” has the sense of “feebleness” and even “sickness” (Strong’s #769, 44).  This derivation of the word makes its meaning clear.  Only because he subjected Himself to the weakness of our human nature could Christ offer up His life for us.

But how was it that the Incarnate Son of God could take our nature to Himself when He is divine?  To explain how the Son of God could share our frailty, St. John Chrysostom says that the Lord assumed our “sinful flesh.”  He writes about the Lord’s humanness, “In nature, it was the same with us, but in sin not… the same” (Chrysostom: NfPf 12 “Homilies on Hebrews”).  In other words, the nature that the Son of God assumed was our fallen nature, and therefore He was subject to all the trials and temptations that we face (OSB vs. 5:2).

Only because the Lord identified with us in our fallen nature could He offer Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin.  By His death on the Cross, He confronted the power of death.  The apostle wrote that the Lord shared our “flesh and blood” “that He might destroy Him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (OSB Hebrews 2:14).  By His sacrificial death, the Lord released those who “through the fear of death… were subject to bondage” (OSB Hebrews 2:15).

A Sacrifice of Deliverance

The Cross, therefore, was not an offering to appease an angry God.  It was a sacrifice of deliverance.  The Lord used the term “deliverance” to speak of His passion when He announced that he would be delivered to the Gentiles who would torture and kill Him.  The Greek word means “to hand over” or “to yield up” (Strong’s #3860, 189).  Speaking of the fulfillment of the Lord’s teaching, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom says, “On the night in which He [Christ] was given up…” (Divine Liturgy, 69).  But the Liturgy goes on, “or rather gave himself up for the life of the world” (Divine Liturgy, 69).

The Offeror and the Offered

We can go on to say that the Lord delivered Himself up to suffering and death so that we might be delivered.  In so doing, Christ did what a priest is called to do:  He offered up a sacrifice for sin.  But the sacrifice that He offered to God was Himself.  Thus we say in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, “He is the One who offers and the One who is offered (Divine Liturgy, 56).  This singular act of self-giving became the ultimate offering for all time.

In summary, the proclamation that Jesus Christ is our High Priest gives us deeper insight into the Cross of Christ.  The Cross represents the voluntary offering of the incarnate Son of God who shared our fallen human nature.  On the Cross, Christ gave up His life to deliver us from the powers of sin and death.  In doing so, He was both the offering and the priest who offered it.  No one took His life from Him, but He freely gave it up in the role of our High Priest.  He did this so that we might be freed from captivity to corruption and have eternal life.

For Reflection

In today’s Gospel, we hear the Word of the Lord: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (NKJV Mark 8:34).  What does it mean to take up one’s Cross?  If the Cross of Christ represents His self-sacrifice for humankind, our Cross is our self-sacrifice for the good of others.  If on the Cross Christ offered Himself for the world, taking up our Cross means offering our lives to others.

With this in mind, we recall that Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (OSB John 15:12).  Thus, self-giving is the essence of love.  If this is true, then all who follow the Lord are to be priests.  They are called to offer themselves for the blessing of others.

This call to the discipleship of the Cross is the way to life with God.  To assure us of His invitation to bear our own Cross and to follow behind Him, the Lord added a promise.  He said, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (NKJV Mark 8;35).  So that we might obtain the fulfillment of this promise, let us answer the Lord’s call and follow the example of our great High Priest.

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