The Lord said to Moses, “Bring Aaron and his sons, their garments, the anointing oil, the bull for the sin offering, the two rams and the basket containing bread made without yeast, and gather the entire assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” Moses did as the Lord commanded him, and the assembly gathered at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Moses said to the assembly, “This is what the Lord has commanded to be done.” Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water. He put the tunic on Aaron, tied the sash around him, clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him. He also fastened the ephod with a decorative waistband, which he tied around him. He placed the breastpiece on him and put the Urim and Thummim in the breastpiece. Then he placed the turban on Aaron’s head and set the gold plate, the sacred emblem, on the front of it, as the Lord commanded Moses. – Leviticus 8:1-10
In this verse we are given a glimpse of things to come. Moses does what Jesus will later do when he symbolically washes his disciples feet with water and baptizes in water. The water here seems to serve a different purpose than all the blood and body parts of the previous several chapters describing offerings and atonement. I have to be honest I like the idea of the cleansing and redemptive power of water far more than the carnage of animal sacrifice. There is something reassuring about the cleansing power of water and the metaphor which God uses when he speaks of our sins being washed away. What can be discouraging sometimes is that it seems like we don’t stay clean.
When I was in College working on my geology degree we were required to complete a field course where you apply all the “book” learning to interpret real “live” rocks. Our field course started outside of Barstow, California near a ghost town called the Calico Ghost Town. We were mapping geology in the desert terrain about 2 miles east of the ghost town. We were “roughing it” in tents with no shower, not much water in general, and the temperatures were hitting the century mark during the day.
One day after sweaty and dirty mapping all day in the desert we decided we could not go another day without washing the dirt off our bodies. So we decided to walk the two miles to the Calico Ghost town to take a shower. We left in the early evening, when it had cooled off a bit but it was still very warm. We got to the Ghost town and had an amazing wash and felt really good and clean. What we failed to account for was that we had to hike the two miles back through the hot desert to return to camp. We arrived back at camp just about as sweaty and dirty as we left….sometimes we are just not able to stay clean.
I am reminded of a passage from one of my favorite books, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis. One of the main characters, Eustace, has been magically changed into a dragon, a metaphor for the prickly, bitter, and thick skinned boy that he actually had allowed himself to become. This passage describes his “undragoning” by Aslan the Lion (the Christ figure):“The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not. I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and , instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe. But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe. Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good. The the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away. Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there I was as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.”
I have not read a better description of the messy and painful process of washing our sins away than this. Baptism is the beginning of the road, not the end. I think many people envision a sprinkling of Holy water, baptism, or a confession of faith as the point at which we are cleansed of our sin. I am increasingly convinced that the cleansing is a process which begins when we admit we are a sinner and accept the forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ. This process is not unlike the “undragoning” of Eustace. We all have many layers or skins –habits and behaviors that we know are not what God intends for us that we cannot strip away. We may try very hard to strip away some of these layers on our own, but God is the only one who can strip us down to our souls. It may hurt like nothing we have ever felt as God strips away these layers to reveal the smaller self inside that he can then remake in his image.
Prayer: Lord cleanse me with the water of your spirit through your Son Jesus Christ. Help me to strip away the layers so that you can remake me in our image.SDG