Tag Archives: Separation

Sacrifice and At-one-ment

You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt-offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you.
Leviticus 1:4 (NRSV)

I have blogged through the book of Leviticus only once since starting this chapter-a-day blogging journey ten years ago. That compares to the 2-3 times I’ve blogged through most of the other books in God’s Message. The reason for this is not a mystery. Leviticus is not an easy read and it’s even more difficult for most people to understand in a 21st century western culture. And yet, it’s part of the Great Story. Without it, our understanding of the story God is telling through history is incomplete.

Leviticus is ancient legal text. It’s part of what’s known as “The Law of Moses” (a.k.a. “The Books of Law” and “The Torah”) which is the first five books of what we commonly know as the Old Testament. Leviticus is a rule book and an instruction manual for the people of Israel regarding the system of sacrifices and offerings they were to make to God. As we see in today’s opening chapter, it’s a bloody affair.

The underlying reason for this gory, intricate system of sacrifices is given. If you blink you might miss it:

“…and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you.”

The word “atonement” is not one we use much anymore. It’s a medieval word and the meaning is simple if you just break the word apart: at-one-ment. It’s to make two things one or to bring two dissonant parts into harmony.

We have to think about it in context of the story. The Great Story begins with creation, and with God placing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve disobey God. They committed a sin by knowingly doing what they had been commanded not to do. God banishes them from the Garden. They are told that the punishment for their sin was that they would be separated from God and they would have to die a physical death. The punishment of sin was death.

In the Book of Leviticus, God is providing a prescriptive remedy for this situation. The appropriate animal, without defect, sacrificed on the altar would make temporary at-one-ment for that person and God. The person bringing the animal would place their hand on the animal and the animal became a substitutionary, sacrificial death for their sin. The death sentence God place on all of us in the Garden of Eden was transferred to the sacrifice.

This is a foreshadowing of the story. Leviticus sets the theme. The temporary sacrifices which the people of Israel made over and over again would one day be replaced by a permanent solution. The sacrifice of God’s own Son. The Lamb of God, without defect, sacrificed once for all.

This morning I’m thinking about foreshadows. I’m thinking how glad I am to have been born in the 20th century A.D. and not the 20th century B.C. I’m thinking about the long list of my own sins and acts of willful disobedience. I’m thinking about the physical death that I will eventually experience. I’m thinking about the nagging sense of loneliness, confusion, and spiritual isolation I felt before experiencing at-one-ment when I entered into relationship with Jesus and followed.

 

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featured photo: Mate Marschalko via Flickr

Catch and Release

Catch

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 45

Listen to me, O royal daughter; take to heart what I say.
    Forget your people and your family far away.
Psalm 45:10 (NLT)

When it comes to family, I have come to believe that our life journey is a never ending process of separation and union. We get this picture at the very beginning of God’s Message when it says a man will leave his father and mother, the woman will leave her home, and the two will become one. Two individuals separate from their respective family systems. They cut the apron strings. They join together in spiritual, emotional, relational, and functional union and begin the process of establishing their own family system.

Release

I have observed over time that many (if not most) conflicts and struggles in our lives, marriages, families, and communities can be traced back to a failure to get this process right. The system becomes over protective and possessive of the individual, and refuses to let the child go. The individual becomes to dependent on the system or the system becomes dependent on the individual. There is a refusal (often an unconscious one) to fully separate. Subsequent union with another individual can’t successfully be accomplished because one or both individuals are still entangled in their respective family systems.

Separation is not, however, alienation. It was never intended to be. As an individual, differentiated from my family system in a healthy way, I am now even more capable of returning and creating a new and different union with my family which is critical for that family system’s growth and continuous development. I am able to help the system continue the never ending process of refinement because I can approach it with a new, objective and healthy perspective.

From the time our daughters were young, I can best describe my approach to fatherhood as: “catch and release.” I sought to captivate my daughters’ with my love, but it was always with the knowledge and intention that I was preparing them for Father God to captivate them with His perfect love, and perhaps for another man who might someday captivate them and take them away from me. Despite my strong desire to cling and not let go, I realized that this was the way God designed it. For a critical stretch of their own journeys I was there to catch them in their stumbling and falling away. I was also there to constantly instill in them the truth that they were lovable, valuable and capable of more than they felt or knew, and to release them into the world to discover the truth of it for themselves. My job was to release, to launch, and to let go with the knowledge that they would return to me as even more capable individuals and we would both be the better for it.

Believe me, I have not been perfect. But then again, neither have my children, or my wife, my parents, my siblings or my in-laws. The process of separation and union inherently creates conflict, but my wife reminded me yesterday that conflict is not a bad thing. Conflict is a healthy part of the process of both individual and relational definition and development. It is the inescapable reality of living together and walking this journey together as imperfect people in a fallen world. Our shortcomings and failures in the process are a constant reminder of our need of both receiving and extending grace and forgiveness. We separate a loved one from their failures and embrace them with unmerited love. Separation and union. Catch and release.

Into this day, the process and the journey continue.

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 13

“Any person with a serious skin disease must wear torn clothes, leave his hair loose and unbrushed, cover his upper lip, and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as anyone has the sores, that one continues to be ritually unclean. That person must live alone; he or she must live outside the camp.” Leviticus 13:45-46 (MSG)

The reason for all of the designations of sores, rashes, boils and fungus in today’s chapter is pretty clear. The people of Israel, millions of them, were wandering through the desert, pitching their tents as they went. They had no formal system of government or organization. Anyone who has watched the aftermath of disasters on television knows that large groups of people in precarious situations are in need of provision and health considerations. By setting out some basic health regulations around infectious disease, the law of Leviticus was protecting the people from getting killed off in a preventable epidemic.

But, consider the poor individuals with an infection. No penicillin. No anti-biotics. They were cast from the society to live on their own. Not only scarred by their physical ailments, they now had the scarring of their souls which came from being cursed and separated from family and friends. No more warm embraces from loved ones. No more intimacy with a spouse. Wherever they went they had to scream “UNCLEAN!” Imagine the psychological effect of having to scream that word all day, declaring to the world your own curse and shame.

I can’t read Leviticus 13 without thinking about the time a man with leprosy came to Jesus. Imagine the outcast described in today’s chapter: torn clothes, face covered, body covered with the ugly white scars of leprosy. Imagine the man who has cried “unlean” for years and watched people, including his own loved ones, flee from him in horror. Imagine the man who can’t remember feeling the touch of another human being.

A leper came to [Jesus], begging on his knees, “If you want to, you can cleanse me.”

Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy.

And that’s the whole of God’s message in a nutshell. We are all unclean, separated from God and made outcast by this infectious spiritual condition of sin. But Jesus comes to us, and we fall on our knees before him uttering “If you want to, you can make me clean.”

And he touches us. In that touch is healing. In that touch is life.

“I want to,” he says. “Be clean.”

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and archeon

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 9

Moses and Aaron entered the Tent of Meeting. When they came out they blessed the people and the Glory of God appeared to all the people. Fire blazed out from God and consumed the Whole-Burnt-Offering and the fat pieces on the Altar. When all the people saw it happen they cheered loudly and then fell down, bowing in reverence. Leviticus 9:23-24 (MSG)

The sacrifices resulted in God’s glory and God’s presence, which resulted in worship. There was an order to the process. Sin separates man from a holy God. When sacrifice for sin was made, and the price for sin was paid, then the separation between God and man was lifted and the way was made for God’s glory and presence. The people, awed by God’s glory and presence, bow in reverence and worship.

Fast forward 2500 years. Jesus made the sacrifice for sin and conquered sin’s consequence, which is death and the grave. The result was a glorified Christ appearing to his followers and God’s presence in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the hearts of all believers. The result is our grateful worship.

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Once again I find that the systematic set of sacrifices and offerings was a foreshadow of God’s ultimate plan. All of the laws, rules, and sacrifices set out in Leviticus serve to remind the human race what an impossible state we were in. Trying to attain perfection in the keeping of every law and the offering of every prescribed sacrifice was a heavy burden. No one could do it perfectly, and that was the point. We don’t earn forgiveness and salvation by systematically and sacrificially doing good things. We are graciously given forgiveness and salvation by what God did for us on the cross.