Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Carrying the Freight

Daily Readings
Psalm 60 + Numbers 6:22-7:88 + Leviticus 27 + Matthew 16

Verse for the Day
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.? Matthew 16:24

Daily Text Numbers 6:24-26, 7:1-11
24The LORD bless you and keep you; 25the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 26the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
On the day when Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle, and had anointed and consecrated it with all its furnishings, and had anointed and consecrated the altar with all its utensils, 2the leaders of Israel, heads of their ancestral houses, the leaders of the tribes, who were over those who were enrolled, made offerings. 3They brought their offerings before the LORD, six covered wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for every two of the leaders, and for each one an ox; they presented them before the tabernacle. 4Then the LORD said to Moses: 5Accept these from them, that they may be used in doing the service of the tent of meeting, and give them to the Levites, to each according to his service. 6So Moses took the wagons and the oxen, and gave them to the Levites. 7Two wagons and four oxen he gave to the Gershonites, according to their service; 8and four wagons and eight oxen he gave to the Merarites, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron the priest. 9But to the Kohathites he gave none, because they were charged with the care of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulders.
10 The leaders also presented offerings for the dedication of the altar at the time when it was anointed; the leaders presented their offering before the altar. 11The LORD said to Moses: They shall present their offerings, one leader each day, for the dedication of the altar.

Carrying the Freight
Now we find how they transported the mobile, but very heavy bases and accoutrements to the Tent of Meeting—transport wagons! This was an eminently practical way to manage the heavy weights involved. All but the Kohathites were given wagons. They had to manage the Holy of Holies, that which was most precious, the dwelling place of God and these things they carried on their shoulders, may we say, next to their hearts? M. Adler wrote, “The Bene Kehat—the ‘family that carried the ark’—had a challenging responsibility. They had to carry it upon their own bodies; they had to feel its weight; they could not seek means to make the burden easier. Religion, too, is a burden, and it is also a discipline. Anyone who seeks to carry a faith easily, shouldering no special tasks, making no distinctive sacrifices, will have a religion that is neither true nor helpful. [185:1079]”

From God to Moses to Aaron to us, the Aaronic benediction is the best known of all prayers in Holy Scripture, save the ‘Our Father.’ It is continuous use by Jews and Christians world-wide. It captures the goal of the vision of God. God’s blessing, God’s visible face, God’s face turned toward you, all combine to give the sense of favor, grace and protection. The second phrase that of YHWH’s face shining is sometimes thought of as the Shekinah or glory of God and is usually thought of in connection with the pillars of cloud and fire over the Tabernacle. It is for this reason that I have placed the benediction with chapter seven, rather than chapter six. The third phrase’s reference to face is the idea that God has turned toward you and figuratively away from others. This is the guarantee of peace that is offered. When you believed that to see the face of God was to die, here the holiest prayer of all enshrines the vision of God. It asks for a sight of the face of God for the individual and the whole people of God. It is my suggestion that the idea that peace comes from the countenance of God turned upon you also ties this prayer into Sabbath rest. In one short poetic, prayerful stroke, all of the goal of God for his people is gathered. So holy is this prayer that there is a tradition that at the temple in Jerusalem, though no where else that I have found, the priest when praying this prayer pronounces the unpronounceable name rather than saying ‘Adonai.’ And that name, YHWH, is found repeated in each of the three phrases of this prayer.
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you;’
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.

The Benediction
Harry Weiss

There’s a memory that sweetens
My father’s last adieu,
There’s a solemn thought that deepens
When I think of him anew.
‘Tis the blessing that he uttered
When I took his last farewell,
The priestly threefold blessing
Our people know so well.

Ah, bless thee, Lord, and keep thee,
His countenance e’er shine,
And gracious be He to thee,
And give thee peace and thine.
His hands were spread in blessing
Above my bowing head,
His blessing lives within me,
His spirit is not fled.

The dear old Jewish custom
Made many a stout heart;
I always felt the better
When thus I used to part.
And though he is gone forever,
To sleep beneath the sod,
I still can hear him lifting
The self-same prayer to God.

Ah, bless thee, Lord, and keep thee,
His countenance e’er shine,
And gracious be He to thee,
And give thee peace and thine.
His countenance be lifted,
And may He grant thee peace,
The goal of earthly living,
And Heaven’s own surcease.


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