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

Saturday, March 26, 2005

I Am the Lord your God

Lectionary Readings Psalm 46-- Exodus 33 -- Leviticus 12 -- Matthew 2

Verse for the Day God is our refuge and strength,a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

Text Daily Exodus 33:12-16
12 Moses said to the LORD, ‘See, you have said to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.” 13Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ 14He said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ 15And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’

I Am the LORD your God
The argument of the chapter is that because of Israel’s disobedience with the golden calf, God will no longer be present in Israel’s midst. As a result Moses establishes a tent of meeting outside the camp, a tent tended to not by Aaron and sons, but by Joshua. Here Moses struggles with God as did Abraham over Sodom. He does not give up until God fully forgives and restores the people. But in the midst of the struggle it becomes clear that God is willing to do away with this people and create a new people from Moses, much like he did with Noah in Genesis 7,8. In fact, he promises Moses that he will be present with him and give him rest (33:14). ‘Rest’ could suggest that he will take him to the Promised Land, but it is also reminiscent of Genesis 2:1-3. Here ‘rest’ represents completion of God’s work. It is what he has always wanted for the human part of the creation. The Garden of Eden was just such an idyllic understanding. God’s purpose for humankind is to bring them into perfect harmony and rest in God’s-self. This is what he offers Moses. So great is their intimacy that without the people Moses can have this sort of relationship to God. But Moses is having none of it. God himself has commanded Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt into Canaan, and into Canaan they will go. He insists, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.” And then he argues for himself, including the people, that he will not know God’s favor unless all of them are led by God. “In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.” Persistent altruism.

But he also wants God’s ‘rest,’ and that he pursues after he obtains God’s forgiveness and re-commitment to the covenant people. Moses has received the Ten Words and has internalized them. He struggles with God, and then he turns and desires to know the glory of God. “I am the LORD your God…” has been emblazoned on the heart and consciousness of this man.

The Priest
by James Oppenheim

Man of Song and Man of Science,
Truly you are as people on the outside of a house,
And one of you only sees that it is made of stone, and its windows of glass, and that fire
burns in the hearth,
And the other of you sees that the house is beautiful and very human,

But I have gone inside the house,
And I live with the host in that house
And have broken bread with him, and drunk his wine,
And seen the transfiguration that love and awe make in the brain. . .
For the house is the world, and the Lord is my host and my Father:
It is my Father’s house.

Enough? I see what is enough!
Machinery is enough for a Scientist,
And Beauty is enough for a Poet;
But in the hearts of men and women, and in the thirsty hearts of little children
There is a hunger, and there is an unappeasable longing,
For a Father and for the love of a Father. . .
For the root of a soul is mystery,
And the Night is mystery,
And in that mystery men would open inward into Eternity,
And know love, the Lord.
Blessed be his works, and his angels, and his sons crowned with his glory!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Incense, lavabo, oil of anointing

Lectionary Reading Psalm 43-- Exodus 30-- Leviticus 10-- II Maccabees 15

Verse for the Day
But Maccabeus did not cease to trust with all confidence with all confidence that he would get help from the Lord. II Maccabees 15:7

Text Daily Exodus 30:1, 6-8, 17-33

You shall make an altar on which to offer incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. 6You shall place it in front of the curtain that is above the ark of the covenant, in front of the mercy seat that is over the covenant, where I will meet with you. 7Aaron shall offer fragrant incense on it; every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall offer it, 8and when Aaron sets up the lamps in the evening, he shall offer it, a regular incense offering before the LORD throughout your generations.
17 The LORD spoke to Moses: 18You shall make a bronze basin with a bronze stand for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it; 19with the water Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. 20When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to make an offering by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. 21They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die: it shall be a perpetual ordinance for them, for him and for his descendants throughout their generations.
22 The LORD spoke to Moses: 23Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, two hundred fifty, and two hundred fifty of aromatic cane, 24and five hundred of cassia—measured by the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil; 25and you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. 26With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the covenant, 27and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, 28and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand; 29you shall consecrate them, so that they may be most holy; whatever touches them will become holy. 30You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, in order that they may serve me as priests. 31You shall say to the Israelites, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. 32It shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an unqualified person shall be cut off from the people.’

Incense, lavabo, oil of anointing
Moses’ instructions were to build and place an altar of incense just before the curtain separating the most holy place from the holy place. There incense was offered night and morning during the lighting and care for the perpetual lamp. There is some difference in thought about the purpose of the incense, but commonly it is understood to represent the prayers of the people. There the smoke of the incense may enter the holy of holies, where the people themselves may not enter. The Christian Church has adopted this practice, and the incense is used at the holiest moments in our liturgy, the reading of the gospel, baptism, and setting the altar for the consecration our Lord’s body and blood.

The basin of water for the washing of the priest’s feet and hands [vss.6-8], has also been adopted in part by the Christian Church, the part being the washing of the hands, or lavabo, from the Latin “I will wash,” in preparation for the consecration of the of bread and wine. Psalm 26:6-12 was the ancient text for this rite and the priest formerly recited it during this part of the liturgy [406:805].

The oil of anointing was not the oil of ordination, but was used to set apart both the furniture and the priests for use in the holy place and beyond. In the church it is common for the bishop to anoint with holy oil a new altar as a part of its consecration. Note in the text, not only the high priest is anointed with this oil, but also the other priests. So sacred was this anointing that in Leviticus 10, when two of Aaron’s sons died, because of their thoughtless administration of the offering of incense, Aaron and his remaining two priest sons were not even allowed to grieve their loss. In Moses’ words, “for the annointing oil of the LORD is on you.” It would have meant death for them to leave the holy place (verses 6,7).
What shall we say to such strictures? We make of them what we will, but for the Israelites these rites were part and parcel of their loving treatment and worship of the God of the unpronounceable name, YHWH. Such devotion is also reflected by Judas Maccabeus and his soldiers in II Maccabees 15:18. Threatened by Nicanor with overwhelming force, their chief concern was an earlier threat of his, 14:33, to level their temple, tear down the altar, and build over the ground a temple to Dionysus! Devotion to the sacred, whatever form it takes, is part of being human, part of giving meaning to the short life we enjoy.

Lights in the Temple
by John Keble

“And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning; when he dresseth the lamps he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it; a perpetual incense before the Lord, throughout your generations.”—Exod. xxx.7, 8.

Now the stars are lit in heaven,
We must light our lamps on earth;
Every star a signal given
From the God of our new birth:
Every lamp an answer faint,
Like the prayer of mortal Saint.

Mark the hour and turn this way,
Sons of Israel, far and near!
Wearied with the world’s dim day,
Turn to Him whose eyes are here,
Open, watching day and night,
Beaming unapproached light!

With sweet oil-drops in His hour
Feed the branch of many lights,
Token of protecting power,
Pledg’d to faithful Israelites,
Emblem of the anointed Home,
When the glory deigns to come.

Watchers of the sacred flame,
Sons of Aaron! serve in fear,--
Deadly is th’ avenger’s aim,
Should th’ unhallowed enter here;
Keen his fires, should recreants dare
Breathe the pure and fragrant air.

There is One will bless your toil—
He who comes in Heaven’s attire
Morn by morn, with holy oil;
Eve by eve, with holy fire!
Pray!—your prayer will be allowed,
Mingling with his incense cloud!