Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Sing a new song to the Lord.
for he has worked wonders.
His right hand and his holy arm
have brought salvation. (R./)
The Lord has made known his salvation;
has shown his justice to the nations.
He has remembered his truth and his love
for the house of Israel. (R./)
All the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout to the Lord all the earth,
ring out your joy. (R./)
Sing psalms to the Lord with the harp
with the sound of music.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
acclaim the King, the Lord. (R./)
Jesus said, "Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,' so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering."
When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.
Many Old Testament ideas surface in Paul's writings, such as the justice of God, the glory of God, redemption by blood-sacrifice, divine grace and favour, the fullness of time. There is reference to blood in both readings for today. We have been redeemed through his blood (Ephesians); and Christ's blood joins that of all the prophets who were martyred before him (Luke). The blood of Christ has some major life-giving meaning.
In the book of Leviticus, blood has various meanings, the most basic being that the life of any animal is in its blood (Lev 17:11). It is as a symbol of life rather a cause of death, that the blood of Christ unites us with God and each other. When the covenant of life was sealed between Yahweh and the Israelites (Exod 24:6-8) blood was sprinkled both on the altar and on the people, as a sign of a permanent, living union.
Ephesians says that our unity with God was established by blood of Christ. This gift was given even before we even existed, because God always planned to give us life. This divine benevolence runs all through Ephesians. If only our love for others could be modelled upon it!
Jesus talks of blood in arguing with a group of Pharisees and lawyers. When he condemns them for putting great tombs over the graves of prophets, it is not from any disrespect for prophets, but that they would be better honoured by sharing their concern for others, especially the poor and people in need. Our own best epitaph too should be how we stand up for the cause of justice, dignity and fairness.
We will be reading for the next weeks from the letter to the Ephesians. It is a very beautiful letter, both in its richness of language and its message. It was not written by Paul himself, but written under his name by one of his disciples after Paul died, as a final summary of his message.
We have read the opening verses, which are a prayer of blessing, 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…' God is praised for all that we have receivedt. It mentions the richness of God's grace that has been showered on us through Christ. We know all about showers in this climate. The next time we are tempted to complain about rain, we might think of that expression, 'the richness of grace showered upon us.'
Through the life-giving blood of Christ we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins. In return, we are moved 'to praise the glory of God's grace', which we do in the Eucharist and every time we pause to pray. Having been showered with grace, we give thanks and try to live under that influence.