With the Day of Atonement as the subject for our lesson this week, it is time to consider the meaning of the two goats, ask who is Azazel, look at what comes after forgiveness and talk about the role of the community in restoration of a right relationship with God.
Leviticus 16 describes in detail the procedures and animals associated with the ancient Day of Atonement: the bull that is sacrificed for the sins of the priest, the goat that is chosen and on whom the sins of Israel are placed before he is lead out into the wilderness. The quarterly makes a point of the fact that the sins of the people have already been forgiven when they are placed on the “goat for Azazel” or Satan. This “scapegoat” is bearing the burden of what he has created.
Then there is the goat (representing Christ) that is killed to cleanse the sanctuary. Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann explains, “First, comes the act of purgation whereby the priest places upon ‘the live goat’ all the iniquities of Israel, which are then carried outside the camp by the goat, so that the holy place is freed of pollution. Second, an offering of ‘purification’ is made, where by the group is purified of its sin so that it may be forgiven. The twin acts of purification and purgation complete a process whereby Israel is freed of its sin and the holy place is made habitable for God” (Reverberations of Faith, p. 14).
Not only did God want individuals to confess their sins and repent. He also needed to have the community cleansed. This annual community event is what I have been thinking about.
How do communities today assist with forgiveness? The Day of Atonement within Judaism sets an annual date, a deadline for dealing with sin. As a procrastinator at heart, it took me a while to learn that deadlines are our friends. They are the only way some things ever get done. Giving sin a deadline makes sense to me.
In the Christian community we have a quarterly deadline for dealing with personal sin when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It is a beautiful, helpful ritual that celebrates the forgiveness that is available through Christ’s death. And it makes it easier to ask for forgiveness when we do it all together like that.
But, I have not thought about that as a time of dealing with the sins of the entire community, of corporate confession. Would regular acknowledgement of the sins of the community help to reconcile the community and individual members? That is the question that I have been pondering this week.
In recent years, it was the Amish who gave the world a lesson in forgiveness when the community forgave the shooter who stormed into a one-room schoolhouse and shot 10 young girls. Several Amish families who had buried their daughters just the day before showed up at the funeral for the shooter. According to a story on National Public Radio, they hugged the widow, hugged the other members of the killer’s family. Notice it was several families who showed up at the funeral. They forgave together. They each had to deal with their individual grief, but together they forgave.
Purging the holy place was necessary to cleanse the Jewish community of its sin, and make the sanctuary a habitable place for God. Dealing with the sins of the community is what comes after individual forgiveness.
In Hebrews 10:19 , we see that Christ’s death gives us a new way to enter the Holiest place with the boldness. For by it are we washed clean. Notice what comes after having “our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (verse 22). “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (24-25). Coming together strengthens us, and provides a place for God to dwell.
Jesus tells us that the world will know us by our love. It is in that love for one another that God dwells, makes at-one-ment.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5629