Growing up in a church where the average member clearly remembered World War II, I was much more familiar with the hymns and songs of the last century than the current one. We, of course, sang many hymns by the prolific poet and songwriter, Fanny Crosby, such as “Blessed Assurance”. “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of heaven divine!” I can still hear the rollicking organ accompaniment. I remember singing that song, seeing other generations take that message to heart—that they were saved, that they had that blessed assurance—and wondering when I would start to feel that same sense of certainty and assurance.
This week’s passage reiterates some of the most beautiful facts and promises of the Christian life: that, from the deepest love, Christ died (Hebrews 10:12). That Christ’s sacrifice is perfect and complete (10:14). That we are part of a new covenant with God and that covenant includes a forgiveness, and forgetting, of all sins and “lawless deeds” (10:16-17). And that there is a new way of life in Christ (10:19-25). It’s beautiful. It’s a blessed assurance.
As ministers of the gospel, we often repeat these things. We proclaim the love of God for all and the possibilities of a life grounded in Christ. And yet, for some—both proclaimers and listeners—accepting that message is incredibly difficult. For some of us, it is far easier to tell others that God loves, like really loves, us than it is to live into that truth for ourselves. For some of us, there is no blessed assurance. There is shame, guilt, disappointment, frustration, and sadness, but not that blessed assurance. What is known on the cognitive level has not yet filtered down to live in the heart.
It is often times a journey to accept and live into the love of God. To truly dwell in the fact that we are beloved children of the Divine not only because we are human beings (and God loves all human beings) but because of the unique factors that make us each an individual, is not something that happens instantaneously for everyone. Hebrews offers not only the list of promises, but also a way to move forward on that journey.
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
It’s the church. It’s community. It’s living together in both a spirit of confession and celebration. That’s how we learn to accepted our belovedness. That’s how we show others they are beloved.
These words were written to a persecuted people. A people rejected by their friends and family for their choice to follow Jesus. A people persecuted for being different in an empire that did not care for such things. A people who fit it with no one but each other. Amid all of this, perhaps they too needed a reminder of their belovedness. A reminder of the promise of the Gospel—that Jesus, the High Priest, had not abandoned them but was waiting at the right hand of God. The people of Hebrews lived in the reality of the Kingdom already realized with the concurrent reality of the earth that is not yet.
For those of us that still struggle with living in the truth of our blessed assurance, we are living in the reality of the not yet. It’s not to say that it’s… sinful, or wrong, or bad. It’s to say that it is a reality and a struggle for some folks. It just is. But it stands as an opportunity for the church to be a source of affirmation and reminder of the truth of God’s love for all. That nothing can separate us from the love of God. That Jesus is both waiting at the right hand of God for “his enemies… [to] be made a footstool for his feet” (Hebrews 10:13) and present with us. It’s part of that beautiful mystery of faith.