Because Fr Brian is away today, we're going to introduce a new ritual.
Outside in the playground there are two goats tied up, and in a minute Merle's going to bring them inside. She'll bring here them in front of the altar. Michael will toss a coin to chose one goat for the altar and one goat for the heath. Then Miriam will take the altar goat up to the high altar and she'll disappear behind clouds and clouds of incense, and all you'll hear is a bit of bleating as she cuts the throat of that goat, and sprinkles its blood on the altar. Then she'll change her clothes, come back down here to the other poor little frightened goat, which is called the scapegoat, and put her hands on its head. And we'll all remember all the foul and selfish things we've done over the last year, and Miriam will murmur over the scapegoat's head, and all our sins will all be transferred to the goat. Then Merle will take the goat by its horns and we'll all troop out off the church and release the scapegoat onto the heath, where it will wander around, taking our sins with it.
And next year, we'll do the same thing all over again with two more goats. It will get quite crowded on the heath.
Now that's what the ancient Jews used to do in the temple every year on a day they called the Day of Atonement. Sometimes referred to as Yom Kippur and you can read about it in the Old Testament, in Leviticus.
And you might wonder why I am telling you about this, because we Christians don't sacrifice animals in our services. It would be messy, cruel and inconvenient. But more to the point the sacrifice of animals is now completely unnecessary, because of the sacrifice of Jesus.
The Day of Atonement
a sermon preached by
Imogen de la Bere
St Albans, England
The Jews had a Day of Atonement every year. We Christians had one Day of Atonement - once only once and once for all. Why am I talking about this today? It isn't Good Friday - the day on which we remember our very own sacrifice. It isn't even Ash Wednesday, the day each year on which we remember our sins. It's the feast of the Purification, the day on which Jesus was taken to the temple, along with some doves to be sacrificed. It was similar to a baptism today, but we do without the doves otherwise I expect the clergy would get very tired of pigeon pie.
It's the feast of the Purification which we keep as the name day of the church, sometimes called the Feast of Dedication. Our church has an odd dedication - St Saviour's - it would be much easier and more fun if there we had a church name like St Alban's or St Teresa's, or maybe St Diana's, then we could talk about the saint's life and example and include some of the ripping yarns that get attached to saints' lives. But there wasn't a saint called Saviour. Our church is dedicated to Jesus Christ plain and simple.
Now do you ever wonder why the founders of this church did that? I don't think it was because they disliked saints stories or had a poor imagination. I think they called this church St Saviour's because they wanted us, the parishioners, never to forget the one central fact of our faith - that we are centred round, dedicated to, focussed on our Saviour Jesus Christ.
So when you think about our Saviour, about being saved, about salvation - what ideas come into your mind? Do you think about being pulled from a burning house? Or being padded by airbags as the car smashes into a another and high speed and crumples up around you? Or being picked up from the middle of a dark and icy sea after clinging to a life raft? Well, the holy salvation Jesus afforded us is like all these things and more, much more. It means: we are saved from ourselves.
There are three important things to remember about our holy salvation, three ideas that attach to the name St Saviour. And as we spell Saviour properly in English, it ends in the word OUR - Our Saviour - and this makes it easy to remember the three things about salvation.
O U R
(1) O is for Once (2) U is for Universal (3) R is for Received.
O - Once The sacrifice of the goats happened every year, because every year people sinned all over again, and had their sins taken away by the goats all over again. Because we are all sinners, we are never going to stop sinning, And God is merciful and will always forgive us. But God is also just - he requires a sacrifice from us. The Jews knew that God was merciful but also just, so they kept on and on sacrificing the goat to show they were sorry, and then sending the other goat away carrying their sins. Jesus died on the cross once. He was the goat who died and the goat who carried away the sins. But he did it once for all time, so we are always saved from sin, saved from ourselves. Always - from the moment he died on Good Friday to the end of time and beyond - we are washed clean of sin. Once.
U - Universal It is for everybody. Salvation is for everybody - not just for born-again Christians, not just for Christians, not just for people born after Jesus, not just for this planet - the salvation stretches back into time and forward for ever and out in space beyond our imagination. When we find intelligent life out there, we'll be able to tell them that they are already saved from sin. Universal.
R - Received Salvation has to be received - by you. No one else can do it for you. Not even Jesus himself can make you accept what he has given you. Salvation has no effect until you have opened your mind and heart to the saviour - it's like winning a huge sum of money in the lottery. You have the ticket. You have won, but if you don't know about it, and don't go forward to claim your prize, you remain in ignorance and possibly poverty for ever. You could be poor as a mouse, struggling to find enough money to feed the dog, and yet have millions in the bank. But you have to go and claim your prize. It's the same with salvation. You have to understand what Jesus had done, and claim it for yourself. Received.
O - Once /U - Universal /R - Received -
OUR salvation brought to us by our Saviour.
So now we can let those poor goats go back to their farmyard.