A Dreadful Thing

By Michael Fitzpatrick

A Reading from Hebrews 10:19-31

19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

26 For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a fearful prospect of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy “on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 29How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? 30For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


During my second deployment to Iraq, we were driving near the Tigris River when we saw the most transcendent sight in a wartorn land. A flock of school girls, maybe six or seven years old, were walking, wearing academy uniforms, from their homes to the local schoolhouse. Previously, similar groups of girls were sometimes abducted by car bomb drivers to use as human shields. But now, through the tall grass of the riverbank, these girls walked hand-in-hand undisturbed, a testament to the changing tide in the region’s security.

I reflect on this today because to kill a young child in an act of insurgency is a dreadful thing. It’s dreadful because it deliberately tramples on one of the most beautiful gifts in the world. That’s much how I understand our passage today. In vv. 19-25, the writer captures with such depth the goodness of God’s salvation wrought through the gift and sacrifice of Jesus’ body and blood for us. It is so good that we are to hold unswervingly to this hope, spurring one another on “toward love and good deeds.”

Yet the author warns us that if we persist in destroying the world for which Christ died, which includes our own lives and bodies, then what hope of salvation remains for us? There is no hope but Christ; if we reject him, there is no savior left. All that remains is “a fearful prospect of judgment and a fury of fire.” Just as we imagine that judgment for violence to a young child must be severe, so is the judgment for rejecting the Son of God and outraging the Spirit of grace. Even as we rejoice in the God of love who sent us “a great priest over the house of God,” we should take seriously the command to hold fast to our hope, for “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.

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