Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. Hebrews 9:1-10
What if you had to wait a year in order to make atonement for your sins? And, what if you could only do so on a certain day of the year? And, what if the atonement could only be done by someone else who also had to make atonement for everyone else? Kind of scary isn’t it. What if something went wrong? Maybe you died before you could get forgiveness. How would you ever remember all the sins you needed to ask forgiveness for?
Well, that is just what was done uritualnder the temple system that all of Israel was under. On the Day of Atonement the high priest and only the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to make a blood sacrifice for all the people of Israel. Yes the people could make sacrifices during the year but in a ritualistic system people tend to get caught up in the ritual and forget everything else including why the ritual was performed in the first place.
Growing up in the Lutheran church I can speak firsthand about how ritual can cause us to forget why we are doing what we are doing. When you do the same thing and say the same word at the same time every Sunday one can begin to mouth the words without thinking about what you are saying. I know I found myself doing that as a teenager. You stood here, sat there and kneeled there. After years of doing so I found that I was more interested in what time it was, I knew by what part of the ritual I was in, then what I was supposed to do. Spontaneity can be lost in such a service and with that loss you can quickly lose the heart of worship we need to have before God.
There is nothing inherently wrong with ritual. In fact ritual can be extremely comforting. However, we need to be on guard so that we are not going through the motions all the while thinking we are worshiping God.
For the first century Jewish Christians the writer of Hebrews is letting them know that they no longer need to cling to the rituals of the temple. We have a new high priest who is no longer limited to approaching God once a year. Now our high priest is God and we can approach Him directly, any day and any time. Not only do we have such access but God wants us to use our access.
Have a blessed day,