We’ve spent the past month exploring the Mass from the perspective of an understandably apprehensive Evangelical. We’ve looked at the practices (genuflection, the sign of the Cross), the sacramentals (the crucifix, holy water, incense), the Church calendar, the liturgy and the prayers. I hope that by now you can see how Christ-centered and Biblical the Mass actually is. There is Biblical and historical justification for every aspect of the Mass. But the one thing we haven’t talked about is actually the thing that Protestants really get into, the thing most Protestants get up and go to church for on Sunday morning, the sine qua non of the Protestant service – the homily, or as Protestants would say, the sermon.
For me as an Evangelical, Sunday morning was about preaching. Yeah, there was singing, there was fellowship, there was prayer. But I’m not much of a singer, I’m shy, and the prayers always left something to be desired. I went for the preaching, to hear the pastor open up the Word to us. I always brought my Bible, and at many churches we were encouraged to take notes. For someone like me who’s into research and study, it was a delight. I was inspired by on-fire-for-the-Lord, anointed, Spirit-filled preaching that called sin “sin,” and challenged me to make a radical commitment to the Lord. I was intrigued by Biblical exegesis that made the Word come alive in my life, as the pastor showed us how it all fit together.
As good as it often was, though, I couldn’t help but notice that our bold, confrontational preaching style in actual fact was pulling punches when we came to certain passages of Scripture. There apparently were things we couldn’t talk about, verses that were better left unread and sermons left unpreached. There were connections that we were reluctant to make, and conclusions that we deliberately never reached. Our theology depended to a certain extent on sweeping some things into theological closets; it was the only way our belief system could be made to work.
Take the book of James. Seniors at the local Baptist high school, to give an example, devote 9 weeks to the study of the 5-chapter-long book of James – 9 weeks. It takes that long to indoctrinate the kids into the “proper” understanding of verses like James 2:24, “A man is justified by works, and not by faith alone,” a very straightforward, eleven-word refutation of the doctrine of faith alone. At the Evangelical churches I used to frequent, verses like James 2:24, John 20:22-23, Colossians 1:24 and 1 Peter 3:21 weren’t brought up. If they did come up, phrases like “Now WE KNOW that this verse ISN’T MEANT be taken literally,” or “Now WE KNOW that this passage does NOT mean what it appears to be saying” were employed to defuse a potential belief bomb. Awkward moments arose when our theology bumped into a compelling chain of logic along the lines of “Jesus is God, Mary is Jesus’ mother; therefore, Mary is the mother of… WHOA!!!” Our on-fire-for-the-Lord, anointed, Spirit-filled preaching suddenly pulled up short. We just couldn’t go there….
As a Protestant I was absolutely fascinated by Old Testament “types” – nonverbal “prophecies” of people, things or events ultimately fulfilled in the New Testament. Types are an Old Testament “object lesson,” if you will. I was right in my glory on Sundays when the pastor would preach on Old Testament types like Abel’s sacrifice, Jacob’s ladder, and Solomon’s temple, explaining that they were all fulfilled in their New Testament “antitype” Jesus.
One firm rule of typology is that the New Testament fulfillment must be considerably more glorious than the Old Testament type; so Solomon’s Temple, for example, couldn’t be merely the “type” of the Second Temple in the New Testament – Solomon’s Temple was ultimately a “type” of Christ’s body, which He raised up in three days. As Hebrews 10:1 hints, an Old Testament type is “but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities.” It’s like the difference between Jesus’ mortal body and His glorified body. The mortal body is fearfully and wonderfully made – the glorified body can walk through walls. That’s a memorable difference.
And so our pastors preached that Adam, Melchisedek, Isaac, Moses, Joshua, Boaz, David, Solomon, and Jonah are all Old Testament types of Christ – great men in and of themselves, but vastly overshadowed by the One to Whom their lives pointed. We recognized the rock struck by Moses, the brazen serpent and the scapegoat as types of Christ. We recognized Jewish festivals as types. We scoured Exodus for every little detail of the Tabernacle, all “types” as far as we were concerned. The Old Testament was like the site of an enthusiastic Sunday-morning scavenger hunt for us; we were all over it, ferreting out every detail. But when we came to the Passover, we had to check our enthusiasm lest it lead us where we couldn’t afford to go….
Of course, we noted that the Passover was a type of the suffering and death of Jesus who redeemed us by His blood. This wasn’t just conjecture on our part – St. Paul in 1 Corinthians calls Christ “our Passover.” St. John the Baptist loudly proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” In St. John’s Revelation we see in Heaven “a Lamb, standing as if slain,” and the multitudes proclaim “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain….” The Old Testament lamb had to be without blemish (Ex 12:5), as was Christ (1 Pet 1:19), bones unbroken (Ex 12:46), as were Christ’s (Jn 19:30). The blood of the Passover lamb was what saved the firstborn of Israel from death (Ex 12:13), and the blood of the Lamb of God is what saves us (Rom 5:9). And it wasn’t enough to spread the doorposts with the blood and then go to bed – the Passover lamb had to be eaten (Ex 12:8)…. Hmmm……
Don’t go there!!
This spotless Lamb of God in John 6 proclaims His Flesh to be “true food” and His Blood “true drink.” And He repeats, over and over, that we must eat this true food and drink this true drink, or we have no life in us.
Don’t go there!!!
The Old Covenant was inaugurated with blood (Ex 24), the blood of bulls which was sprinkled on the altar and on the people. Moses said to the people “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” And we find the New Testament antitype, Hebrews 10:29 tells us, in the New Covenant by which we are sanctified. It was Jesus Himself, the Mediator of the New Covenant, who taught us this: “And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” What a glorious New Testament antitype! In Exodus it is the actual blood of slaughtered bulls which establishes the Old Covenant. In Matthew, it is a chalice filled with the actual Blood of… grape juice???
Don’t go there!!!
As I was saying, some sermons are better left unpreached, and some connections better left unmade, at least from an Evangelical Sunday-morning-sermon point of view. But if you ever get weary of what’s being left unsaid, come on over!
We “go there” every time we have Mass.
On the memorial of St. Andrew
Deo omnis gloria!