12 July 2013Leviticus 16:1-19
“Thus he shall make atonement for the sanctuary, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel, and because of their transgressions, all their sins.” (v. 16)
Leviticus is a book of rules and regulations relating to worship and religious ceremonies in ancient Israel. And many can seem rather strange to the modern reader.
Sacrifice was a major part of religion and worship in the Middle East at that time and grain or animals were made for sin offerings, thanksgiving, fellowship offering, and guilt offering. Taking place at the Jewish New Year, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was (and still is) the holiest day of the year for Jewish people.
Today's passage is the first part of the instructions for the Day of Atonement, and the second part is tomorrow's reading.
The Day of Atonement has two themes - atonement and repentance. It is about acknowledging the things that you have done wrong, and restoring your relationship with God. It wipes the slate clean, and means that you can go forward into the new year with confidence because things have been sorted out with God.
Possibly the easiest way to put into words what "atonement" means is to split the word - 'at-one-ment', so that you are put at one with God.
The sacrifice has two parts - and two goats. The first is slaughtered as a sin offering by the priest before God. The offering to God is for "uncleannesses of the people of Israel, and because of their transgressions". And it is through the goat's blood that forgiveness and atonement comes.
Jesus death is described as a sacrifice to end all sacrifices. His death restores once and for all our relationship with God.
- In worship when we makes our prayers of confession, the focus can tend to be on personal sin. What easy is it to acknowledge and confess the sins of a community or a nation, like the rebelliousness of the ancient Israelites?
- The word "sacrifice" is used in different ways in modern life, and can be reduced to a sense of putting yourself out for the sake of something else - eg "look at the sacrifices I have made". How might we reclaim the word "sacrifice" and its power?
- In Paul letter to the Romans, he invites people to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1). What does being a 'living sacrifice" mean to you?