The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord . The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover. This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. – Leviticus 16:1-5
It is back to Leviticus today…sometimes I feel like Leviticus should have a subtitle (or a warning label)…burned, bloody, and blasted. Aaron’s sons discover, the hard way, that the most holy place and approaching God in a way that is not according to God’s timing or rules can be deadly. I am so thankful that the relationship we have with God can be different. This brings up a question which I have discussed with more than one non-christian. How can the Leviticus God of blood, burning, and blasting be the God of blessings, baptism, and love we find in Jesus? I have thought and prayed a lot about this and I cannot pretend to fully understand the answer to this most important of questions, but here is what I am learning.
I think part of the answer can be found in the territory we explored a couple of weeks ago in “how God is like water“. I believe there is a spiritual “cycle” which operates on earth and beyond and the “condensate of God” exists on earth as God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus. This is a bit like the hydrologic cycle on earth. Water takes many forms –gentle rains, fog, clouds, etc., and it is always in motion. In order for there to be “gentle” forms of God like the Holy Spirit and Jesus, perhaps there must be the possibility of the more extreme form of God the Father that was present in the The Most Holy Place.
Extreme forms of weather like hurricanes, thunderstorms, and tornadoes are not pleasant and can be deadly, but they are a necessary part of the same hydrologic cycle that gives us a life-giving rain. So the same God who offered the Samaritan woman living water at the well (John 4:10), and provided Hagar Hidden wells in the desert, can show up as a “hurricane” and blast Aaron’s Sons out of existence. It seems there cannot be one without the other, just like we cannot have gentle rains and fog without the possibility for tornadoes and thunderstorms.
What is clear from the Gospel accounts of Jesus on earth is that we can approach Him any time and place — no special underwear required. We have access to God in a way that the Israelites did not have through the Most Holy Place and the Tent of Meeting. As Christians we could take this to mean that we need not be concerned with how “clean” we are when entering God’s presence. On one level this is true. I believe we are able to come as we are to Jesus, but does this mean we need not be thoughtful about “coming clean” to be in God’s presence?
Aaron was directed to wash with water before entering God’s presence. Christians symbolically wash when they undergo baptism. Perhaps, the practice of Catholic confession is a sort of “washing” before entering God’s presence. I am not a Catholic so I plead ignorance on this point. What seems clear is that God wants us to reflect on our behavior toward Him, other people, and even how we treat his creation before we meet with Him or enter His presence. Does this mean that He will not show up if we do not do this? I don’t know. I think He will show up regardless of our state of cleanliness, but we may have difficulty seeing and hearing Him through the buildup of “soot” on our souls.
So it seems that the most logical way to proceed before entering God’s presence is to begin by “washing up” before we pray by reflecting on ways that we have not honored God, our neighbors, and God’s creation. Clear away the soot so we can hear and see God. Does this mean we should not approach God covered in “soot” for fear of being blasted? I do not think so…a thunderstorm can clean off a whole lot of soot.
Prayer: Thank you God that you accept us just as we are, soot and all. Help us to be washed clean before we enter your presence so we can see and hear You clearly.SDG