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

Friday, March 24, 2006

Dietary Laws and Purity Rulings: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 11 with poem by Robert Herrick, The Chewing the Cud

Daily Readings
Psalm 26 Exodus 30 Leviticus 11 I Timothy 1

Daily Text: Leviticus 11

Dietary Laws and Purity Rulings
Leviticus chapter 11 is divided into two sections: Verses 1-23 have to do with dietary laws and verses 24-47 with purity rulings. There is some confusion between the two because acceptable and unacceptable animals are described in both sections with some obvious overlap. Animals were not clean or unclean because of habits or behavior, but because the Torah declared them clean or unclean. There have been through the centuries attempts to find reasons for these declarations. Philo and a millennium later, Maimonides, attempted explanations. The latter declared that all prohibited species were unhealthful and he did not know that ‘tapeworm and trichina may be transmitted through pork, that rabbits carry tularemia, and that shellfish are prone to infection and spoiling [185:810]. However, it is obvious that some of the dietary laws had salutary effects without being promulgated with that intent [185:810], at least Holy Scripture never makes claims as to the reasons that might lie behind its dietary restrictions.

Ritual defilement came in all sorts of ways, through removing a mouse from your dwelling, by stepping on a carcass inadvertently, and probably deliberately at times. However, there was no sin involved in becoming unclean. There was simply a practice to be followed to be cleansed and this did not involve the temple or sacrifice. Uncleanness became a problem of sin when an individual or community continued in their uncleanness in such a way as to bring it into contact with the holy, for example, entering the sacred area of the Tabernacle or eating consecrated food [Plaut, 185:819]. The goal always was holiness and while being ‘clean’ in terms of the purity laws did not create holiness it allowed one to pursue it. Spiritual holiness could be considered contagious, not so ritual purity. On the other hand, according to Plaut ritual impurity could be transmitted [185:819]; therefore, it ought not to be tolerated beyond the day in which it occurred. Leviticus 11:44 sums it up: “For I am the LORD your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.”

The Chewing the Cud
Robert Herrick

When well we speak, and nothing do that’s good,
We not divide the hoof, but chew the cud:
But when good words, by good works, have their proof,
We then both chew the cud, and cleave the hoof.

Collect for the Day
God of love and mercy, give us clean hands and pure hearts, that we may walk in innocence and come to your eternal dwelling, to praise you in the company of your saints for ever. [476:735 Psalm prayer]

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Alien Fire/Celestial Fire: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 10 with poem from Hekhalot Hymns, The Attendants of the Innermost Chamber

Daily Readings
Psalm 133, Exodus 29, Leviticus 10, I Corinthians 16

Daily Text: Leviticus 10

Alien Fire/Celestial Fire
Nadab and Abihu did not distinguish between the common and the holy (10:10); possibly they were too inebriated to do so (10:9). At any rate, their alien fire drew celestial fire and they died ignominiously on the spot. They may have demonstrated God’s holiness in the process, but they did not live to benefit. Aaron and their brothers were not even allowed to mourn publicly, that is, by disheveling their hair and tearing their clothes, for they were on duty as priests, anointed with the Lord’s annointing and wearing the vestments of the Lord’s celebration.

Aaron was so shaken, and if Leviticus 10 is taken as an integral whole, perhaps so angry, that when Moses lectured him (10:3) he was stonily silent and later angrily resentful (10:19). Nadab and Abihu had made both sin offering and burnt offering and were struck down, might not he be as well if he were to consume those self-same offerings? Moses was forced to acknowledge his reasoning.

The Attendants of the Innermost Chamber
Hekhalot Hymns

You who are crowned in grandeur,
who are wreathed in crowns,
who celebrate the Most High with hymns of jubilation—
now glorify the Master of flame,
for you are stationed within the very heart of the Shekinah,
in the innermost glory of the chamber of chambers.
He has exalted your names above those of His other servants;
He has singled you out from among the servants of the chariot.
Whoever mentions any of you by name—
fire consumes him, flames surround him,
torches whirl about him and glaring coals,
coals of wind, coals of splendour shower upon him!

Collect for the Day
As with visible oil your body outwardly is anointed, so our heavenly Father, Almighty God, grant of his infinite goodness that your soul inwardly may be anointed with the Holy Ghost, who is the Spirit of all strength, relief and gladness. May he, according to his blessed will, restore to you full strength and health of body, mind and spirit that you may withstand all temptations and in Christ’s victory triumph over evil, sin and death: Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who by his death hath overcome the prince of death; and with the Father and the Holy Spirit evermore liveth and reigneth God, world without end.
[286:756 The sacrament of anointing, Western Rite]

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Atoning Fire: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 9 with poem by Yannai, The Celestial Fire

Daily Readings
Job 38 Exodus 27:20-28:43 Leviticus 9 I Corinthians 15

Daily Text: Leviticus 9

Atoning Fire
Perhaps the most important observation to be made in Leviticus 9 is that every sacrifice points toward atonement for sin (488:78). But first the priest’s sin had to be atoned, for “unatoned sin in the priest would have made the whole people guilty” (488:78). The Christian Church accepts that evil and good are always mixed in the life of the priest and that evil there does not effect the efficacy of either the read and preached Word or the sacraments celebrated by the unshriven priest. Christ is the only true priest and his atonement for our sins is once and always efficacious (BCP:873:Articles of Religion XXVI).

The fire of the atoning sacrifice in Leviticus 9 was normal, but the Hebrews believed that the fire from the Presence augmented it signifying the source of their atonement and the acceptance of their sacrifice by God.

Aaron’s blessing (Leviticus 9:22) was thought to be the first use of the three-fold priestly blessing found in Numbers 6:24-26.
` 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 Celestial Fire

Now an angel of the Lord appeared to
Moses in a blazing fire—

a fire that devours fire;
a fire that burns in things dry and moist;
a fire that glows amid snow and ice;
a fire that is like a crouching lion;
a fire that reveals itself in many forms;
a fire that is, and never expires;
a fire that shines and roars;
a fire that blazes and sparkles;
a fire that flies in a storm wind;
a fire that burns without wood;
a fire that renews itself every day;
a fire that is not fanned by fire;
a fire that billows like palm branches;
a fire whose sparks are flashes of lightning;
a fire black as a raven;
a fire, curled, like the colours of the rainbow!

Collect for the Day
Our God and God of our fathers, let our prayer reach You—do not turn away from our pleading. For we are not so arrogant and obstinate to claim that we are indeed righteous people and have never sinned. But we know that both we and our fathers have sinned.
We have abused and betrayed. We are cruel
We have destroyed and embittered other people’s lives.
We were false to ourselves.
We have gossiped about others and hated them.
We have insulted and jeered. We have killed. We have lied.
We have misled others and neglected them.
We were obstinate. We have perverted and quarrelled.
We have robbed and stolen.
We have transgressed through unkindness.
We have been both violent and weak.
We have practised extortion.
We have yielded to wrong desires, our zeal was misplaced.
We turn away from Your commandments and good judgement but it does not help us. Your justice exists whatever happens to us, for You work for truth, but we bring about evil. What can we say before You—so distant is the place where You are found? And what can we tell you—Your being is remote as the heavens? Yet You know everything, hidden secrets of everyone alive. You probe our body’s state. You see into the heart and mind. Nothing escapes You, nothing is hidden from Your gaze. Our God and God of our fathers, have mercy on us and pardon all our sins; grant atonement for all our iniquities, forgiveness for all our transgressions. [286:850 Day of Atonement]

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ordination: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 8 with poem by Yose ben Yose, The Vestments of the High Priest

Daily Readings
Job 36:24-37:24, Exodus 26:31-27:19, Leviticus 8, I Corinthians 14

Daily Text: Leviticus 8

The offering of ordination was mentioned in 7:37, but not until Leviticus 8 is it detailed beyond what was said in Exodus 28 and 29. There are four elements in the ordination: special vestments, oil of annointing, the gathering of the whole people and finally, sacrifices for sin, burnt offering and ordination.

This is no ordinary convocation. It has implications for every person’s redemption, for the entire congregation’s well-being. Yes, the high priest is central, but only because he is required by the people of God. (Note here that Moses serves as the High Priest until Aaron is consecrated. This notion was continued in the West in the idea of the Divine Right of Kings. One such example was seen in Henry VIII’s willingness to speak for the English Church in separating from Rome in the 17th century.) Obviously, Aaron and his sons had as much need for sin and guilt offerings as did the people, for even in their ordination they were required. Nothing much has changed, only the ceremonies.

The Vestments of the High Priest
from Avoda: The Service on the day of Atonement
Yose ben Yose

Then the officer,
the overseer in charge of the holy service,
sends faithful messengers to the East,
saying to them: ‘See if the dawn has risen,
if light from the east has spread over the earth.’

As soon as they tell him that the light is gleaming,
the high priest rushes to the pool of purification in the Temple court.
They spread a screen of fine linen between him and the people,
thus dignifying him, so that none should see his nudity.
Quickly he strips off his clothes,
goes down and bathes, comes up and dries himself.

The prefect, in charge of his vestments,
clothes him in linen,
then further adorns him with golden ornaments.
He rejoices in his majestic garments but does not become proud,
having put them on for the glory of God,
nor for his own.

He consults the Urim1 about the order of battle,
raising his eyes to his Master,
as a pupil to his teacher.
Then He reveals the secret to him in the decision of the Urim:
should they go forth or desist;
will they fall by the sword or be victorious.

Oh, sing out God’s praise,
sons of a great nation,
for He is always close at hand,
bearing tidings of salvation!

He exults in the fringed linen pants—
like an envoy, like a horseman on the alert,
a messenger faithful to those who dispatch him.
By wearing the pants he atones for lechery,
for they were prescribed2 to cover his nakedness.

He completes the concealment of his body
with a double tunic, fringed,
reaching down to the wrists.
Thus he atones for the sin of the house of Jacob,
who sold the righteous Joseph because of his ornamented tunic.3

Then he girds himself with a splendid sash,
a belt entirely woven of linen,
and not of linen mixed with wool
as is the custom throughout the year.

The crown on his head is like a sovereign’s glory,
a turban-diadem of fine linen,
for dignity and beauty.

Wrapped in a robe of blue,
bright as the firmament,
his rounded arms fill the sleeves.
The opening for the head has a binding around it,
as in a coat of mail,
which deflects the slingstones,
without being torn.

All around the hem there are multi-coloured pomegranates,
with golden bells between them;
when they strike each other and tinkle,
the high priest atones for the voice of him
who strikes down his neighbour in secret.4

Collect for the Day
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies and God of all comfort, dwelling on high but having regard for the lowly, knowing all things before they come ti pass: We give you thanks that from the beginning you have gathered and prepared a people to be heirs of the covenant of Abraham, and have raised up prophets, kings, and priests, never leaving your temple untended. We praise you also that from the creation you have graciously accepted the ministry of those whom you have chosen.
[BCP:520 at the Consecration of the Bishop]

1 A kind of oracle, set within the ‘breastpiece of decision’, worn by the high priest over his heart.
2 Exodus 28:42
3 Joseph’s ‘coat of many colours’ (Genesis 37:3)
4 I.e., the sin of slander.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ritual Information: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 7 with poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Pied Beauty

Daily Readings
Job 36:1-23, Exodus 25:1-26:30, Leviticus 7, I Corinthians 12

Daily Text: Leviticus 7

Ritual Information
With Leviticus 7 we see the conclusion of the formal presentation of the ritual requirements of the offering of sacrifices. Two matters of interest will be noted: the first having to do with the sacrifice of well-being as unique to Israel, and the second with the days on which a sacrifice of well-being might be consumed. It probably is true that other peoples in the ancient world offered sacrifices of thanksgiving to their gods, but evidently no other peoples had a special category for these offerings [cf. Plaut 185:784-789]. Three kinds of offerings were spelled out: thanksgiving, thanksgiving for a vow come to fruition and a free-will offering of well-being. Only, the second, that of the votive offering or the vow, had special characteristics. That vow was freely offered, but once the vow was declared and the intention created to make the sacrifice if the vow were honored, then the offerer was obligated to carry it out. The thanksgiving and the free-will offerings did not create this obligation.

There was a difference also between the offering of well-being or thanksgiving and the other two as to when the offering could be eaten. The first had to be eaten on the day it was sacrificed. The other two could be eaten on that day and the one following. However, the third day was verboten. It became an occasion for sin to eat of it on the third day rather than to burn and so destroy whatever was left over. And this occasion for sin had a number of consequences one of which was that if the original offerer sinned in this way he lost his original forgiveness! Another consequence was that those consuming illegitimately became unclean and failing the offering of a chatat or sin offering were ‘cut off’ from their kin. This is not spelled out, but generally was thought to be an act of God which would end in childlessness, ostracism and perhaps even early death, not a kind of guilt one would desire to incur.

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins


Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout
that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced-fold,
fallow, and plow;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him.

Collect for the Day
Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more—a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days;
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise. [407:361 George Herbert]