One of the best books I have ever read is the The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The back ground for the story is Afghanistan first of all during the time of the Russian occupation and then subsequently the Taliban. It is told by Amir, the author’s young narrator. He tells of the time he put money under the bed of his half- brother Hassan. Amir wanted Hassan out of the house and out of his life. An incident had happened where Hassan was badly hurt by other boys. Amir had the chance to stand up for Hassan but remained hidden out of fear of receiving the same punishment. Amir subsequently carried heavy guilt as a result of this choice and saw Hassan’s presence as too painful a reminder. Amir got what he wanted in one sense. Hassan moved away but Amir’s guilt remained. Years later finds Amir now living in America. He finds out that Hassan is dead but he has a son who is being held captive in Afghanistan. Encouraged by his mentor Rahim Khan to return and atone for his past behaviour Amir returns to Afghanistan to rescue Hassan’s son Sohrab. On the way whilst accepting the hospitality of Farid, Amir again puts money under a bed, but this time rather than to cause pain, he does it to help out a family in great financial need. This is one of several moves Amir does in the book as marks of atonement.
To expiate one’s sin commonly means to atone for the fault by undergoing punishment. In the process of rescuing Hassan’s son Sohrab, Amir was badly beaten up but in the process he felt cleansed of his guilt over the past.
This week we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ. The theme of atonement is very strong in this Sunday’s Second Reading to the Hebrews. At the beginning of each year Israel would celebrate the Great Day of Atonement. This was known as Yom Kippur and was a day entirely devoted to fasting, prayer, reading the Word of God and the expiatory rites. The ritual concluded with the sprinkling of the blood of animals as it happened on that day at Mount Sinai. This is described in our First Reading. The intention of the ritual was intended to restore the communion of life between God and humanity. This is what Amir did. Although Hassan was dead Amir believed he could do something to restore their relationship beyond the grave by rescuing his son.
However despite their best efforts it was recognized as not being a perfect offering because of humanity’s weaknesses. Therefore this offering had to be made every year.
The Gospel account of the Last Supper is a reminder of how Christ went to the cross to atone for our sins. In contrast to the yearly human offerings Christ only had to do this once and for all. His blood is the only blood that truly expiates because his offering was perfect. As a result Christ shedding his blood on the cross restores forever and permanently the relationship between God and humanity.
I believe this Feast is particularly important for those times in our lives where we may feel guilt over our past sins and find it hard to let go of this. Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist is a reminder that those sins are forgiven and that our bond of life with God is re-established. Whatever we might have done has been more than atoned for by Christ.