It is the blood that makes atonement….

9 03 2011

DAY SIXTY-SEVEN : Leviticus 17 v. 1 – 18 v. 30; Mark 14 v. 17 – 42; Psalm 31 v. 9 – 18
As Shrove Tuesday ends and Ash Wednesday begins, our Lenten Pilgrimage is underway. Today’s (yesterday’s actually, but catching up) readings, around blood, holiness and the Last Supper, are a fitting reminder of the high calling of those called to discipleship, laying down all to follow Him, and taking up the cross, daily, in submission to God’s will…..“Yet not what I will, but what You will.”

LEVITICUS

Eating Blood Forbidden – all creatures to be slaughtered must be brought to the tabernacle (no sacrificing to goat-gods and the like), and no blood should be eaten, “for the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar.”
Blood from sacrificed animals was ‘returned to the Creator’ by sprinkling on the altar; blood from hunted animals was ‘returned to the ground’ by draining and covering with dust.
Eating the flesh on the carcass of an animal found dead also make one unclean !

Unlawful Sexual Relations – the remaining ten chapters are about holy living, reflecting the character of our Holy God. Firstly, purity in our relationships. These rules are laid down to make the Israelites distinct from the Egyptian community they’ve come out of, and the Canaanite communities they will be living amongst. The list of prohibited relations makes good sense, beginning with close family (no sexual relationship with mother or stepmother, with sister or step-sister, with grandchild, aunt, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, (‘no rival wives’ forbids marrying two sisters, which was, of course, what Jacob had unwittingly ended up doing – this is now prohibited). Sex during monthly periods, adultery, homosexual activity and bestiality are forbidden.
God makes it clear that any of the above stain the land and the people.

MARK
The Last Supper – The reported conversation in Mark’s gospel around the Passover table begins with Him exposing His betrayer. That will have created an air of tension in the room. Then He takes the bread, gives thanks and breaks it – “Take it. This is my body”. He does the same with the cup – “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many.”
He speaks of the coming Kingdom, they sing a hymn (as is the custom at the end of the Passover Meal), and they leave the city for the Mount of Olives.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ words are simple and few. They have striking effect. There’s a whiff of betrayal, and the symbolism of the bread and wine sets up a powerful regular reminder to those of us who share communion in fellowship.

Peter Will Deny – Startled by Judas’s exit, no doubt, the disciples are further dismayed when Jesus talks of them all falling away. Impetuous Peter strikes up his familiar “never, not me!”, but hears Jesus predict his denial three times before the cock crows twice. All the remaining disciples speak out their determination to be faithful to Jesus (within hours they will all have fled).

The clash between human will and human bravery in action is lived out for all to see in the coming hours of the story – how painful for each of them that their fear overtakes them in Jesus’ hour of need….


Gethsemane – For me, probably one of the most moving passages anywhere in the Bible. Jesus, on His own, His closest disciples unable to stay awake, in the garden of Gethsemane, pouring His heart out to His Father.
The disciples ‘did not know what to say to Him’ – only minutes (hours at most) before, they were clamouring to get their chance to swear their unfailing allegiance. Already their inability to stay awake is distancing them from the path Jesus is walking.
For Jesus, this is real torment in the garden, begging Father God for another way, a different cup to drink.
The two key sentences, for me, today, are :
“Yet not what I will, but what You will” – the real essence of our Covenant Prayer, no longer our own, but Yours
“The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” – the real battle we face daily, when we know what we ought to do, but in our weakness, we fail.

We need the Holy Spirit to make possible in us (in our spirits) what seems impossible for us (in our bodies).

PSALM
“I trust in You, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”
 My times are in Your hands; deliver me from my enemies
 and from those who pursue me.
 Let Your face shine on Your servant;
 save me in Your unfailing love.”

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