(This is a republishing of a blog written in 2020. It seemed appropriate to share again at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.)
I love Mondays. Yes, I really do. I also love a new year for the same reason I love Mondays. It’s a new start. There’s been a period of relative rest and reflection, and then—a reset, a fresh start with a new set of goals and priorities and activities. It’s kind of like the way I always felt at the beginning of a school year when we shopped for new clothes and pencils and such.
This first week of the new year, I’m excited by my new journal with its empty pages waiting to be filled. I begin a new reading and writing schedule. I schedule meetings with people I know are part of God’s mission for me this year and we dream about what we can accomplish together.
You may not share my excitement for Mondays or for the passage into a new year. I suppose I can enjoy such things because I don’t have a conventional job or lifestyle that automatically continues as usual, like an automatic subscription renewal. As the perennial itinerant pastor/teacher/counselor/musician, I can make every week different if I want to. Usually I want to. But whether you are like me or very different, I found some Scripture that comes to life in the area of new beginnings, however they may look for you and me.
I’m reading Leviticus. People sometimes point to Leviticus as an example of obtuse, arcane, tedious material, a part of the Bible they must “get through” if they want to be able to say they’ve read through the entire book. Like the genealogies in Numbers or the Gospels. But I think that misses the profundity and beauty of the truths that lie therein. It just takes a bit more effort to excavate them so they can be applied to our current journeys of faith.
Leviticus is about holiness. It’s given in the Law so God’s people can get a glimpse at what pleases and what displeases a most holy God. It is full of some the most vivid typologies and symbols from the ancient world of Hebrew worship. It holds necessary instruction to the priesthood and the people of Israel, that they would know how to live and worship as God required. It is about ethics, relationships, sacrifices, sex, blood, and sin. Above all, I believe it is about staying clean, and about how to get clean again when we have been defiled. This is important because it defines what sets a lover of God apart from those who deny, hate, ignore, or rebel against him.
It would take a whole series of blogs to unveil all the astonishing ways this literature from Leviticus leaps into the life of the 21st century church. I’ll just speak of one for now.
Atonement. It is not a coincidence that the Day of Atonement comes immediately after the Jewish New Year. This was the moment on the calendar for a reset. The entire nation was to enter a twenty-four-hour complete fast and devote themselves to prayer and repentance. They were to wear clean white clothing and do no work, and to abstain from sexual relations. This was to facilitate the experience of purification and restoration being enacted in the spiritual realm.
Two goats were presented at the temple. Lots were cast to decide which goat would be slain and which would serve as the scapegoat. The unfortunate goat that lost the coin toss, so to speak, was killed, and its blood brought into the Holy of Holies by the high priest, to be sprinkled on the mercy seat that covered the Ark of the Covenant. This was the only day when the high priest, and only the high priest, was allowed to enter this most holy place to make atonement for his own sins and the sins of the people.
When the high priest emerged, he would lay his hands on the second goat, symbolically pressing upon it the burden of the sins of the past year. The goat would be released into the wilderness, never to return.
Once these rituals had been completed, the feasting and celebration could commence. We are clean and new! We have been restored to friendship with God! We have been reset to clean! We’ve been given another chance to get it right! (Maybe…Let’s try not to screw it up this time?!)
Through the seasons of the year, all of us–not just the ancient Jews–have highs and lows, successes and failures, days of honorable, holy conduct, and days when we miss the mark. Thankfully, we don’t need to mess with bulls and goats and ritual sacrifices, because “our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time” (Heb. 10:12). But we do need to draw near and renew our commitment to him at times. Take account of our spiritual condition. Admit our faults and feel a godly sorrow, “the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have…the kind [that] leads us away from sin and results in salvation” (2 Cor. 7: 9-10). He wants us to have this freedom of feeling clean and new.
Here’s the chorus from a great praise song I’ve been singing recently called “Gone” by Elevation Worship: “Gone, gone, all my sin is dead and gone and I sing ‘Hallelujah!”Done, done, he is risen it is done and I sing, Hallelujah!
What a blessing to know we can reset to clean in the realm of the spirit.