Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Exodus 29:15-37) transports me to the sacred altar of Aaron and his sons way back in the earliest days of the Priesthood. Aaron set the stage for the holy work of mediating grace and forgiveness to the covenant people. Moses here in this Passage gives instructions for how the people are to prepare Aaron and his descendents for their priestly duties, their symbolic work of bringing atonement (at – one – ment) between the people and their Almighty I Am. I love the attention to detail in passages like this. The priest lays hands on the ram, ordaining the beast for its sacrificial offering. Ram’s blood is applied to the priest’s right earlobe, right thumb, and right big toe. Why these appendages? God only knows. Then a blood and oil mixture stains the priest’s garments and blood is sprinkled on the altar. Various parts of the butchered animal are taken out and burned along with some bread, providing the Lord with a sweet aroma of atonement to savor. I love the next part. The ram’s breast is taken out and is waved at the Lord for a wave offering. Here is our earliest documented ritual of “doing the wave.” After waving the breast, the priest can chow down on the holy white meat.
It’s all a bloody mess, this consecration business. We moderns are naturally uncomfortable with all this butchering for the business of forgiveness. We are not accustomed to soiling our hands with the blood and fat and meat of animals still warm with life. The contemporary grocery store saves us all the trouble of dirtying our hands with animal sacrifice. Everything is neatly processed and packaged, and looks nothing like something that once had life and breathe. We are far removed from the slaughterhouse. Spiritually, we are glad for Jesus’ putting an end to the necessity for sacrifice. And yet, animals do provide daily sacrifice for us; chickens and cows and hogs and lambs shed blood daily for our consumption. Somewhere, a butcher’s garment is stained with blood. (One of those butchers is my friend Anabel from Cuba; I got to see her ply her craft on a chicken and a pig on my last visit.) I also remember my Cherokee friend Bill Baldridge coming to visit us several years ago, and when he said grace he thanked God for the animal who gave up a life so we could be sustained and nourished. I had never thought about praying such a thing, but it made sense.
We have four chickens, laying hens, and they are at the end of their laying life. Soon I will engage in the age old business of slaughtering the birds, seeing them run around with their heads cut off. It puts me in a whole different frame of mind to appreciate my protein when I think of doing this job. Ryker, Speckle, Henny, and Penny will be my first set of slaughtered animals. I’m going to invite a couple of experts in the community, Looie and Lily, to show me how’s it done and supervise. I’m sure I will make a bloody mess of it. I think I’ll wave a breast as an offering of thanks to the Creator before eating it. I might even dab some blood on my right earlobe and thumb and big toe for good measure, just to see what it feels like. It sounds crazy or silly, I know, but I’d like to get in touch a little more with what ancient pastors went through to consecrate their work, to make it holy. And maybe it will help me sing some of those bloody good songs of faith with a little more depth: Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing pow’r? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin, And be washed in the blood of the Lamb. So if you hear me singing that, and see a red stain on my thumb or earlobe, you’ll know what happened. And you are welcome to come over for some chicken and dumplings.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.