Sunday, May 28
Exodus 28: While its basic design is prescribed in verses 27-31, the priestly robe actually became more elaborate over the years and, in one respect at least, more symbolic. Eventually the robe of the high priest was adorned with stars and various pictures of objects from the whole earth, symbolizing the cosmic proportions of IsraelŐs intercessory mediation before God. When the high priest thus entered into the Holy of Holies, he represented all of the created world.
Just as the crown was the particular sign of the king, a specially designed turban was the distinguishing mark of the priest (verses 32-35). This adornment of the head is especially appropriate, because each office involves a ministry of "headship." In the case of the priest, the turban bears a small golden plate an inscription on that may be translated "sanctuary of the Lord" or "consecration of the Lord" (hagiasma Kyriou). In early Christian literature this word hagiasma is used to designate church buildings, altars, the relics of the saints, holy water, oil lamps, and a variety of sacred objects, including (in Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Wonderworker, and John of Damascus) the Holy Communion.
Monday, May 26
Exodus 29: Although in the Old Testament membership in the priesthood was determined by blood lines, the proper exercise of the priesthood also depended on an ordination that was unusually elaborate. The priest was a consecrated person, and in the Bible virtually all acts of consecration are celebrated and effected in the context of an appropriate ritual. In the case of the Old Testament priests, the consecration lasted one week, as long as GodŐs act of Creation (Exodus 29:35-37).
Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophetic dimension of the Old Testament sin-offering, as of all the Old Testament sacrifices. In this case, the burning of the sin-offering "outside the camp" was seen in the early Church as particularly symbolic, inasmuch as "the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefor let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach" (Hebrews 13:11-13 ). Historically, of course, Jesus was executed outside the city because that was the prescribed place of execution (cf. Leviticus 24:14; Numbers 15:35f; 1 Kings 21:13; Acts 7:58), but the author of Hebrews saw that, notwithstanding what His executioners intended, this circumstance of JesusŐ death was the fulfillment of biblical prophecy (cf. also Matthew21:39; Luke 20:15; John 19:20).
Especially to be noted verses 15-31 is the consecratory anointing with sacrificial blood. This ancient rite is the prophetic background for the powerful biblical image of being "bathed in the blood of the Lamb" (Hebrews 9:12-14; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5; 7:14).
The sacrifices of morning and evening (verses 38-46) eventually contributed to the structure of the daily life of prayer. They are the historical background of what eventually came to be called Matins or Orthros) and Vespers (or Evensong) in the Church, the two major "canonical hours" of daily Christian worship. It is important to observe, however, that already in Judaism these two times of prayer became joined with another at noon (cf. Psalms 55:17; Daniel 6:10-13; 8:26; 9:21).
Tuesday, May 27
Exodus 30: The use of incense (verses 1-10,34-38) in connection with sacrificial worship may originally have served the purpose of disguising the very unpleasant aroma of the burning flesh of the sacrificial animals. In due course, however, the heavenward rising of the smoke gave the burning of incense an independent meaning as a symbol of manŐs prayer rising to God (cf. Psalms 140:2; Luke 1:1:8-11; Revelation 8:3-5). Thus, even in places as remote as India and Tibet, worshippers have continued to burn incense as a common religious symbol long after the discontinuing of animal sacrifice. The use of incense in man worship is as universal as the raising of the hands in praise and supplication. Indeed, when used often in prayer, the smell of incense, as of aromatic oils, has been known to work on the deeper stores of oneŐs memory in order to put the worshipper into a prayerful disposition, even before the prayer begins. Not surprisingly, the ritual burning of incense in Christian worship is at least as old as the construction of church buildings.
The collection of money to support the divine worship (verses 11-16) is not something alien or extraneous to the worship. It is itself a dimension of the proper worship of God. Indeed, whether used directly for the worship, or for the general support of the ministry, or for the relief of the poor, tithes and offerings are always an important component of our worship (cf. Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:16). Theognostos of Alexandria speaks of the "sacrifice of almsgiving."
The use of aromatic oils in connection with worship (verses 22-33) was already so old that its significance is presumed in the text. First, the oil was consecratory. Serving the several purposes of nourishment, healing, and light, oil provides one of the richest symbols in human experience. Kings, prophets, and priests are all anointed with it to indicate and effect their consecration to service in GodŐs name. (In the 13 century, Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, preaching on the text "Thy name is as oil poured out" from the Song of Solomon, gave his monks a remarkable meditation on this threefold purpose of oil as symbolizing the invocation of the holy name of Jesus: the name of Jesus nourishes, it heals, it enlightens.)
Second, the sweet and pungent odor. Like certain sights (icons, stain-glass windows, etc.), sounds (psalmody, hymnody, etc.), and tastes (the Holy Communion, the blessed bread, etc.), certain smells can be deeply associated in the human psyche with past memories of worship. Ironically, manŐs sense of smell can provide one of the most stable and enduring experiences of his religious memory. The worshipper worships God with his whole being and all his senses, including his olfactory sense.
Wednesday, May 28
Exodus 31: The gifts of the Holy Spirit are manifold, and they include the special charism that enables certain special individuals among the saints to adorn the instruments of the divine worship. Two of them, one from Judah and the other from Dan, are remembered here. The Holy Spirit did not stop granting that charism at the end of the Old Testament period, and even today GodŐs people very much depend on the enhancement of divine worship by architects, ikonographers, precious metal workers, book binders, glass blowers, wood and stone sculptors , designers of vestments, needleworkers, and other artificers of GodŐs temple.
There seems to be no end of the number of times that God must remind the Israelites about the Sabbath (verses 12-17; See also 35:1-3 presently). Someone remarked that the people of the Bible manifested such devotion to work that they could be kept from it only by the threat of death! While this remark may be only a witticism, it does indicate that the love of work and respect for honest labor that are such distinguishing features of Western Civilization (and the major explanation of its superior material prosperity) come chiefly from the Bible. It must be said that, with the exception of Hesiod in Greece and Virgil in Rome, love and respect for work were not features of our pagan classical heritage, in which physical labor was chiefly regarded as the function of slaves.
These two tables of the covenant (verse 18), written with the finger of God, were to be preserved in the ark of the covenant. In writing His law on tables of stone, God was also answering a deep need in the human spirit, for the stone inscription symbolizes the permanence of the established moral norm. There are numerous historical parallels testifying to this basic human need, such as the ethical inscriptions of Asoka in ancient India, and the precepts carved into the walls of the temple of Apollo at Delphi.
Thursday, May 29
The Feast of the Ascension: This day, the 40th since Easter, marks the celebration of the LordŐs ascent into heaven as recorded in the Book of Acts 1:1ř11. As a divinely revealed mystery of the Christian faith, this heavenly glorification of Jesus Christ as the Lord of history and the destiny of the nations is beyond all human description. In the New Testament, nonetheless, there are several ways in which it is spoken of. Of these, we may draw particular attention to certain images of posture: the glorified Christ is portrayed in heaven as both sitting and standing, and each of these postures adds certain dimensions to our understanding of this feast.
First, sitting. Jesus now thrones at GodŐs right hand. Psalm 110:1 was a major Old Testament text that the early Christians regarded as both prophetic and interpretive of his glorification: "The Lord said to my lord: ÔSit thou at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.Ő" Hardly any other line of the Hebrew Bible was dearer to the early believers in Jesus. He himself had quoted it to his enemies, trying to get them to consider his own identity as GodŐs true Son (cf. Mark 12:26; Matthew 22:44; Luke 20:42). This reference of the Psalter to ChristŐs enthronement was also quoted in the first sermon of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:34) and became the foundation of some of the most important pronouncements of the New Testament about Christ and our salvation (cf. Mark 16:19; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). Similarly, this psalmŐs reference to the subjecting of JesusŐ enemies beneath his feet was to lay the basis for important things that the New Testament would have to say about the end of history (cf. Acts 1:35f; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:22; Hebrews 10:12f; and perhaps 1 Peter 3:22). When the Bible describes Jesus as "sitting" in heaven, the emphasis is placed on his role as king and judge. His throne is for ever and ever (cf. Hebrews 1:8).
But the Lord is also said to "stand" in heaven. Though this image appears less often, it is found in two texts of great majesty and drama. Both places describe ecstatic visions of individual Christians. Thus, we read, in Acts 7:55f, that Stephen "looked up steadfastly into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said: ÔBehold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.Ő" The other passage is found in the Book of Revelation, which describes a vision of the Apostle John: "And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the Throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb was standing, as though slain" (5:6). In the culture of the Bible, standing is the normal posture for prayer. It would appear, then, that in these texts that describe Jesus as "standing" in heaven that the accent is on his role as our intercessor and mediator at the Throne of the Father.
Friday, May 30
Exodus 33: The people had evidently not given all their jewelry for the construction of the calf (apparently not believing in the calf very much either), and they are now told not to wear their metallic adornments, as a sign of their repentance, for the rest of the journey. One may also note that, not wearing them, they will more readily part with them when the time comes for this jewelry to be employed in the adornment of the tabernacle.
Moses now asks something for himself (verses 12-22), confessing that the coming journey may be simply too much for him to endure unless the Lord gives him sufficient light to make coherent sense of it. God answers this prayer by granting him a special experience of the divine presence, described as a sort of oblique glance at God, catching sight of the LordŐs glory as it passes by. This description is as close as Moses can come to telling of this fleeting and indirect experience of GodŐs presence, which has been granted to many of the saints in all ages. St. Augustine (Questions on the Heptateuch 2.154) interprets "I will pass before you" as a reference to the Resurrection of the Lord. No man has ever seen God, except the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father. To the rest of us is given to perceive the glory of God shining on the face of Christ (cf. John 1:14-18; 2 Corinthians 3:7 Ń 4:6; 2 Peter 1:16-19).
Saturday, May 31
Exodus 34: It is to be observed that the two stone tables in verses 1-9, though to the naked eye they may seem lifeless and hard, actually embody the awesome experience of Moses described in these verses. Regarded in faith and in the context of the covenant, they are alive with the divine presence.
Verses 10-28 are joined by the common theme of the purity required for an exclusive fidelity to God. The rich symbolic meaning of verses 29-35 is explained by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:7 Ń 4:6.