May 18 – May 25

Friday, May 17

Leviticus 5.1-19: For the forgiveness of sins it was necessary to “confess” what one had done (verse 5). In context this confession was made to the priest, who was then charged to offer the sacrifice specific to the offense (verses 1-4). Thus, even in the Old Testament, priests were already “father confessors.” Such confession of sins pertained to the regular liturgical worship of God’s people (Psalms 32 [31]:5).

These sins, being confessed, were then forgiven through the Old Testament sacrament of the sin offering. The priest thus made “an atonement for him concerning his sin” (verse 6). The expression “concerning his sin” (mehatta’to was translated into the Septuagint Greek as peri hamartias. This same Greek expression is later found in Paul’s description of the sacrifice of Jesus, concerning whom he wrote, “what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin (peri hamartias): He condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).

Thus, in Leviticus, through the rite of the sin offering God “forgives” the sins of those for whom the sacrifice is offered. There are three points to be made about this verb salah, “to forgive.”

First, it is the very purpose of this sacrifice for sin, which is offered “so that they may be forgiven” (4:20). This formula appears only in connection with the sin offering (verses 10,13; cf. 4:26,31,35; Numbers 15:25,28) and the peace offering (verses 16,18,26; cf. 19:22).

Second, in the Bible the meaning of salah is never legal, forensic, or judicial. Unlike the corresponding English verb, salah is used only of God—not of a human judge or court. The term is theological in the strict sense and means a release from punishment.

Third, in Leviticus salah is not used apart from certain liturgical, sacrificial rites. That is to say, without the shedding of blood, there is no remission. Through these sacrifices the people were restored to communion with God, thus enabled to share in the divine worship. Otherwise the worship would be defiled by their participation.

Acts of unintentional desecration of something holy or the inadvertent violation of an oath were not covered by the sin offering, but by a separate sacrifice traditionally called a “guilt offering,” ’asham (verses 15-26 in the Hebrew text, 5:15—6:7 in most English translations). Of necessity this offering was for an individual, not the congregation. It bore something of the character of a reparation or compensation, a feature that explains why the prescriptions for this sacrifice, unlike the others, take note of the value of the sacrificial victim (verses 15-16,20,24-25). Some authors prefer to translate ’asham as “reparation offering.”

With respect to the holy things covered by these prescriptions, we observe that Sacred Scripture distinguishes degrees of consecration (21:22; Numbers 18:8-19). The “most holy things,” consecrated by actual physical touch (6:18,27; Exodus 29:37; 30:29), could be handled only by the priests.

We likewise bear in mind that the desecrations covered in these laws were unintentional offenses. Deliberate sacrilege carried the death penalty (Numbers 4:19-20).

Inadvertent or unintentional perjury was also covered by the legislation in this chapter (verses 20-26; 6:1-7 in most English translations), inasmuch as it involved desecration of God’s name. Intentional perjury was covered by very different legislation (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11).

The fulfillment of the Old Testament’s ’asham is, of course, the sacrifice of the Cross, where the Suffering Servant gave his soul (nephesh) as an ’asham for our sins (Isaiah 53:11; cf. Matthew 20:28; 26:28).

Saturday, May 18

Leviticus 6.1-13: These next two chapters treat of the sacred food by which the Israelites shared in various prescribed sacrifices. The verb ’akal is found five times in these chapters.

This participation, an integral part of Old Testament religion, is correctly thought of as sacramental, inasmuch as it was a physical means, established by God, by which His people communed with Him in grace. In the history of salvation, this participation prepared God’s people for the sacraments of the New Testament, chiefly the Holy Eucharist.

The five sacrifices treated in these two chapters include both daily offerings and sacrifices prescribed for special occasions. The daily offerings of participation were the burnt offering (verses 8-13) and the grain offering (verses 14-23). The special sacrifices of participation were the sin offering (verses 24-30), the guilt (or reparation) offering (7:1-10), and the peace offering (7:11-36). These five sacrifices give structure to these two chapters.

Because of the nature of the subject, the style in these two chapters abandons the case law procedure of the previous chapters and adopts that of instruction, or torah. Indeed, each of these five instructions is called a torah (verses 9,14,25; 7:1,11), giving us, as it were, a small Pentateuch. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are also five “speeches” given to and through Moses (verses 8,19,24; 7:22,28).

Ezekiel 41: Everything in the temple expresses the principles of mathematics. In the Bible (as in Pythagoras and Plato), numbers are sacred; they are spiritual emanations of God’s creative act, giving form, structure, and significance to the universe. Numbers are the basis of “form,” that internal principle of proportion that causes things to be what they are. And because the knowledge of anything consists in the comprehension of its form, all knowledge involves a mathematical perception, a “measure,” the perception of “limits,” which “define” things.

Even this future temple—a reflection of the heavenly sanctuary seen by Moses on Mount Sinai—now being “visited” in prophetic vision by Ezekiel, is shaped (that is, receives its form) by the principles of measurement. Because the house of God is a house of order, not chaos, it is a house structured according to the eternal principles of proportion.

Step by step, and in reverent silence, the angelic tour guide patiently lays his royal cubit stick to determine the proportions of the sacred space. The unit of measure that he employs is the royal cubit, which in modern measurement is 52.5 centimeters or 20.6692 inches.

When the heavenly minister enters the Holy of Holies to take its measure in verses 3-4, Ezekiel reverently remains outside; when that inner sanctuary has been measured, the angel gives the prophet a brief explanation.

Ezekiel also receives an explanation of the altar in verse 22. The elaborate carvings described in verses 19-26 are early proof that the Jews of that period (and for centuries to come, well into the Christian era), did not interpret the Decalogue as prohibiting works of representative art in places of worship.

Pentecost Sunday, May 19

Acts 2.1-21: The very word “Spirit,” or Pnevma in Greek, means breath, and we readily recognize here the root of such terms as “inspire” and “expire.” The Holy Spirit is God’s own living Breath, and it comes to the Church through the flesh of Christ. He breathes the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes from within His very lungs.

The mission of the Holy Spirit, then, is not something independent of Jesus of Nazareth. The risen Lord, in His transformed body, is the only medium of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of Christ is not a reality separable from Christ.

Like most breath, the Holy Spirit is invisible. What is visible is Christ. It is to Christ that the Holy Spirit directs our attention. Indeed, the Holy Spirit has relatively little to say about Himself.

The Holy Spirit becomes the atmosphere in which the Church lives. Consider once again the image of breathing. We can take air into us, only because we are surrounded by air. It is thus with the Holy Spirit. We do not have the Holy Spirit in us, unless we are in the Holy Spirit.

This image indicates the moral responsibility we have with respect to the Holy Spirit. That is to say, we have a spiritual atmosphere to protect. In order to guarantee that the Holy Spirit can come into us, it is imperative that we keep ourselves in the Holy Spirit. There is a certain kind of air pollution that we use considerable force to keep out.

Ezekiel 42: This chapter of Ezekiel elaborately describes the temple area enclosed by a wall that made “a separation between the holy and the common” (42:20). In Holy Scripture there is a strong sense of sacred space, a consecrated area devoted solely to sacred worship. Indeed, the Greek verb meaning to “divide” (temno) provides the root of our word “temple,” designating a special space set apart or “divided” for sacred worship. (The same verbal root gives us such English words as “time” and “temporal.” Just as space is “divided,” so is time.)

The original type of such space was the area adjacent to the Burning Bush, which Moses could not enter without removing his shoes. (Observe that in Ezekiel 42:14, the priests were required to change their clothing when they entered or left the temple. Secular clothing was inappropriate within the sacred space, and liturgical clothing was inappropriate outside of it.)

When Moses later received the Law, all of Mount Sinai became sacred space, off-limits except to those designated to approach the Divine Presence. In varying gradations, all the space of the temple was consecrated and, therefore, off-limits except to those designated for entrance. Most sacred of all was the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest could enter, nor could even he enter it except on the holiest day of the year (the divided and thereby consecrated “time”), which was the Day of the Atonement.

Here on earth, all consecrations of space are reflections of heaven itself, that tabernacle not made with hands, where our own Forerunner and High Priest has entered once and for all, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

Monday, May 20

Ezekiel 43: God’s glory, which Ezekiel had seen depart eastward from the temple in 11:23, now returns from the same direction. This glory of God, witness by the prophet, was revealed in a great luminosity, in reference to which we are surely correct in thinking of the bright cloud of fire that led Israel through the Red Sea and the Sinai desert. This same divine luminosity adorned the face of Christ our Lord at His Transfiguration and is an image of divine revelation itself (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6).

When the divine glory returns to the temple, it is accompanied, Ezekiel tells us, by all the mystic images that he originally saw at the time of his calling, at the beginning of this book. In verse 10 he is commissioned to write a description of all that he sees, and there immediately follows an account of the altar (verses 13-17) and its construction and consecration (verses 18-27).

One is particularly struck by the detail that this new altar must be ascended by stairs, a feature expressly prohibited in Exodus 20:25-26.

Psalms 46 (Greek & Latin 45): This psalm inspired the opening of a popular hymn by Martin Luther: Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott. This famous line of Luther, in turn, was to have an interesting history of its own, being translated over eighty times into fifty-three languages prior to 1900.

Though all of them attempted to preserve Luther’s meter, the English translations varied quite a bit. Just ten years after Luther published it, Miles Coverdale did the first English rendering, which read, “Oure God is a defence and towre.” In England they yet seem to be content with Thomas Carlyle’s version: “A safe stronghold our God is still,” but other translations have been attempted. For instance, there were W. R. Wittingham’s “A mountain fortress is our God” and H. J. Buckoll’s “A tower of strength our God doth stand.”

The version to prevail in this country, however, was published by Frederic Henry Hedge in 1852: “A mighty fortress is our God.” Anyway, this brief survey may suggest something of the importance of Psalm 46 in popular Christian piety over the years.

The psalm’s structure is very easy to perceive, its two strophes each ending in the refrain, “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our helper.” The wording of this refrain accentuates what we may call its ecclesiological theme; that is to say, the voice in this psalm is the voice of the Church, the holy city, which is the dwelling place of God. Hence the importance of the first person plural all through this psalm: “we,” “us,” and “our.” God is “our” refuge and strength, “we” shall not fear, The Lord of hosts is with “us,” and so forth. This is the voice of God’s people, the same voice that prays, “Our Father.”

This is no modest or understated theme in Holy Scripture, this image of God’s people as a holy city, the Church. Thus our psalm touches the rest of the Bible at a hundred points, all the way to the Book of Revelation, where John’s final vision is one of the holy city which is the definitive dwelling place of God: “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.”

As in the Book of Revelation, our psalm speaks of a stream of living water in connection with the holy city: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.” This stream is at once the primeval river of Paradise, the holy font of Baptism and the water of eternal life.

Tuesday, May 21

Acts 2.40-47: The summary of the response to Peter’s first sermon includes (in verse 42) the three constitutive components of the Church’s liturgical life: First, the authoritative proclamation of the Word of God (“the apostles’ doctrine”); second, the serving of the Sacraments (“the Communion, the breaking of the Bread”); third, common worship (“prayers”). It is in these three things that the “baptized” (verse 41) are to “continue steadfastly.”

Their practice of “holding all things in common” should not be interpreted in a legal sense of ownership (cf. 5:4) but with respect to their operative attitude toward their possessions. It is significant that this attitude is mentioned in the immediate context of the Church’s liturgical life. It was from the beginning that the Church made “collections” of material resources at the common worship, particularly the Eucharist.

All the components of the liturgical worship mentioned here are also found in our earliest extant description of the Eucharistic Liturgy by Justin Martyr (Apologia Prima 67) in the mid-second century. That first generation of Christians maintained their worship in the temple (Luke 24:53) as well as the Eucharistic communion in their homes (Acts 2:46). Like Jesus (Luke 2:27,49; 19:45; 22:53), they used the temple as a missionary forum (Acts 3:11; 4:2; 5:20-21,42).

Ezekiel 44: The first three verses of this chapter testify to the special holiness of the temple’s east gate, consecrated by the entrance of God’s glory through it. This gate must remain sealed forever. Because God Himself has used this gate, the prophet is told, no one else may do so. Even the prince, who may approach the gate from the vestibule to the west of it, may not pass through the gate itself, though he is permitted to eat certain consecrated foods while within the gateway.

This account of the consecration of the temple’s eastern gate, by reason of God’s having entered it, is read at Vespers on most feast days of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Eastern Orthodox Church, which interprets the text as an image prophetic of Mary’s perpetual virginity. According to this interpretation, her very body, because God’s Word used it as His entrance into this world by means of the Incarnation, was consecrated in an exclusive way; if this was the case with respect to the divine cloud of God’s glory in the Old Testament, how much more with respect to God’s definitive entry into human life by Incarnation. After His passage through it, the door of His entrance, because it was definitively consecrated, must remain forever shut. (Mary’s perpetual virginity, unquestioned for centuries and considered defined dogma by most Christians throughout the world, was consistently defended by the Protestant Reformers. The sustained denial of it is not a product of Protestantism, but of modern secularism that has no sense of physical consecration.)

The rest of this chapter deals with the consecration of the priests and Levites. Himself a member of the priestly family, Ezekiel habitually shows special concern for the distinction between holy and profane, as we see here in verses 17-27.

Wednesday, May 2

John 15.9-17: Jesus calls his disciples, including ourselves, his “friends.” Saint John’s early affirmation, “The Word became flesh,” is both the thesis of his whole gospel and the interpretive principle for understanding its sundry parts. This one verse affirms that everything expressed in the divine Word took on a fleshly, human form.

In the stories recounted by John, we ponder divine Wisdom translated into human discernment, the eternal purpose enacted as a historical drama, and infinite love assuming the shapes of personal friendship, affection, and familial endearment.

Everything in the Word becomes flesh. The whole Word became flesh. Thus, the infinite kindness of God is configured in the provision of wine at a wedding feast and the gift of bread for a crowd of thousands. Like the Word quietly taking flesh in the virgin’s womb, the mysterious wine and the enigmatic bread are inserted into, and alter, the experience of human beings. In each case the Word is made flesh and dwells among men.

Thus, the thesis, “God so loved the world,” assumes the form of an infant loved by His mother and learning, in turn, to love her. He learns it well. Later in His life another man was so aware of the friendship of Christ that he commonly referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

In John, the love of Christians for one another is modeled on the love all of them come to know in Christ. Thus, whereas the mandate in the Synoptic Gospels is to love our neighbors as ourselves (cf. Mark 2:31 et al.), in John’s account we are to love one another more than ourselves.

And the basis for this new mandate is not an ethical principle, but a personal example: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

Ezekiel 45: The first eight verses of this chapter treat of particular dispositions of real estate in Jerusalem: for the holy place, for the priests and Levites, and for the people and the prince. The disposition of the land is arranged in relation to the temple, with the property of the priests around it, and the real estate of the prince and the citizens out beyond that of the priests. The arrangement of the land in and around Jerusalem thus reflects the structure of society, with God at the center, then His ministers, and then the civic order.

The thought of Ezekiel envisions, then, the restoration of theocracy. His vision is entirely ideal, because even from the perspectives of demography and topography, Ezekiel’s purely symmetric arrangement would be impossible to implement on actual real estate on earth. Nonetheless, this same passion for precision must be applied to proper measurements and currency (verses 10-12), and to appropriate offerings to be brought for the various public sacrifices (verses 13-25). In offering these gifts, the people shall act through their prince (verses 16-17).

Thursday, May 23

Leviticus 7.1-21: All the blood sacrifices in this chapter (and 6:24-30) have the identical ritual structure, consisting in the mactation of the animal, the use of the sacrificial blood for atonement, the burning of the animal’s flesh on the altar, and the subsequent ritual meal of meat and grain. It is significant that the meal, since it is a means of communion with God in grace, follows the rite of blood atonement.

The Christian reader will see in this ritual the outline of theological truth. These ritual sacrifices, all fulfilled as prophecy in the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 7:27; 10:12), indicate that communion with God in Christ requires the shedding of His blood for atonement. The sacrifice of the cross, that is to say, and Christ’s entrance into the holy place with His sacrificial blood are necessary required for our sharing in His Eucharistic meal.

Whereas in the Old Testament sacrifices of communion a strict distinction was made between priests and other Israelites with respect to this participation, no such distinction is made in the Eucharist of the New Testament. All Christians participate in the same Sacred Food. Through this Eucharistic meal, believers become the holy people of God. The Food itself is the means of this communion in grace. It is through this physical Food of this sacrificial meal that the Church is rendered holy.

Ezekiel 46: In this chapter the interest goes from sacred space to sacred time. The west gate of the temple’s inner court, the gate facing east, is to remain closed on ordinary workdays, but the Sabbath and the monthly feast day (“the new moon”) are to be marked by the gate’s opening (verse 1).

The civil authority (“the prince”) will regularly consecrate the life of the nation by appearing reverently at that gate on those appointed days to present a special sacrifice (verses 2,8). The gate will also be opened for the prince whenever devotion prompts him to make an additional offering (verse 12). The prince shall also see to it that regular offerings are made, twice daily, at morning and at evening.

The prayers designated for those two times of daily sacrifice became a standard component of Jewish piety and eventually passed into Christian discipline as the “canonical hours” of Matins and Vespers; this explains the language about sacrifice found in the traditional texts of those two daily services of prayer.

Verse 18 indicates a return to the ancient Mosaic mandate keeping inherited real estate within family ownership (cf. Leviticus 25:10-17).

Friday, May 24

Ezekiel 47: A secret spring, flowing from the holy place, sends fresh waters eastward, and Ezekiel is taken outside to see the growing stream. Since the eastern gate of the temple is forever locked and the southern gate lies in the area of the flooding water, he exits the temple by the north gate. The river deepens as it goes along through the Judean desert until it reaches the Dead Sea (verse 8). This stagnant pool is refreshed by the new living water flowing from the temple, so that fish can live in it and trees grow on its banks.

This is the living water of which Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman in John 4. This is the stream of Genesis 2:10-14 and Revelation 22:1-2. It is the living water of Pentecost. This living stream, flowing from God’s glory in the temple, is the life-giving water of Baptism.

The rest of this chapter (verses 13-23) contains a detailed geographical outline of the Promised Land, which prepares for the distribution among the twelve tribes in the next chapter.

One observes in this section (verse 22) an attitude toward non-Israelites far more positive than the attitude in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which narrate Israel’s actual return to the Promised Land.

Psalms 59 (Greek & Latin 58): This psalm is divided by halves, each of which, near its end, contains the refrain, “You, O God, are my helper.” Each half also speaks of the psalmist’s enemies as a pack of vicious dogs threatening to devour him.

The context of this psalm is that sacred Passion by which we were redeemed, and the psalm’s voice is that of Christ our Lord, the only One who could make the claim of innocence found near the beginning: “For behold, they have stalked my soul, the powerful have assaulted me. Not for any wrongdoing of mine, nor for any sin in me, O Lord. Without wrongdoing have I run, and straight have I kept my course.” Jesus said exactly the same thing to His enemies: “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” (John 8:46).

This innocence of Jesus appears rather frequently in the Book of Psalms, beginning as early as Psalm 7. It is one of the Christological themes shared by the Psalter and the New Testament. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Surely sinlessness, blamelessness, and innocence, as such words apply to Jesus, designate far more than a merely moral trait. Let us look again at that last text: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This is clearly a passage about the Lord’s atoning death. To say that God made Jesus “to be sin” is a very strong way of saying what John the Baptist had already proclaimed: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). God’s making Jesus “to be sin” means that He was God’s chosen “sin offering,” the sacrificial victim of the atonement. The innocence that Holy Scripture predicates of Jesus has to do with the efficacy of His redemptive suffering and death upon the Cross. His blamelessness, His freedom from blemish, is a quality of that oblation by which we have been delivered from the power of sin.

Those parts of Holy Scripture that speak of the qualities required in the victim slain in a sin offering lay special stress on its being “without blemish” (e.g., Lev. 4:3, 28, 32; 6:6). The oblation must be “clean,” symbolizing the state attained by the removal of sin.

Ultimately, of course, all of those Old Testament sin offerings were but a prefiguring of the truly efficacious sacrifice of the Cross, “for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). But if the victims of those older, inefficacious sacrifices had to be without blemish, how much more that Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. It was because He was without sin that Jesus could take away our sins. Thus, it was with specific reference to the Passion of Christ (“Christ also suffered for us”) that the Apostle Peter applied to Him a line descriptive of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah: “Who committed no sin, / Nor was deceit found in His mouth.” He then went on to narrate the atoning sacrifice: “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:21–24).