Monday: Psalm 64-66; Numbers 15.22-31; Hebrews 5.1-10

From: Jonathan Bailes

Once again, the topic for today’s reading: sin and sacrifice. In Numbers 15, we read about the provision of sacrifice for sins committed unintentionally. Then Hebrews 5 tells us that, just as Aaron and his descendants lived to make sacrifices for sin, so Jesus offered a sacrifice for our sin through his prayer and suffering. Logically, this all seems fairly straightforward. Even if it isn’t an attractive idea, we get what the Bible is saying. Sin is incompatible with the holiness of Israel’s God, and in order to have fellowship with this God we need a priest to offer sacrifice for our sin, even when it’s unintentional. But it is one thing to grasp the logic of the sacrificial system and quite another to experience its gravity. We don’t experience God’s holiness in the way those Israelites did. We can confess that our sin demanded a sacrifice, even sing about it, without knowing what it feels like to carry a year old goat to the priest, watch it die, and smell it as it burns.  

Annie Dillard writes a lot about holiness and what a foreign concept it is for us moderns. In Holy the Firm, she talks about how Christians who worship in more formal, liturgical styles (like us at CotC) sometimes approach God “with an unwarranted air of professionalism.” She says that we sometimes “saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger,” that danger being the presence of the Holy One in our midst. This is in sharp contrast to the practice of an eighteenth century Hasidic Jew whom she describes in The Writing Life, who “every morning bade goodbye to his wife children and wept as if he would never see them again. His friend asked him why. Because, he answered, when I begin I call out to the Lord. Then I pray, ‘Have mercy on us.’ Who knows what the Lord’s power will do to me in that moment after I have invoked it and before I beg for mercy?” We can thank God that, as Hebrews 5 testifies, we have a high priest who has made it possible for us to invoke God’s name with confidence. But if we want to appreciate what that means, we probably ought to spend a bit more time thinking about the wisdom of this Hasid and his reverence for the Holy One.

I live with my wife and three children in Cleveland Circle and study theology at Boston College, where I am writing a dissertation about a saint who knew more about God’s holiness than I do.