Relating Ritual, Symbol, and Reality – A Question

I was looking at this week’s lectionary passages, and a relationship with my current study of Leviticus struck me.  How precisely do our actions and rituals symbolize what we’re trying to represent?  Is it possible that all they do is open up the questions for us?  I wrote about some of the oddness of God’s offering of grace, if viewed from the human perspective, in my lectionary notes.

Now here’s what strikes me in reading Leviticus, or even better in reading from about Exodus 21-Numbers:  The symbols illustrate to a greater or lesser degree a vast array of the elements of the way in which we relate to God.  We can look at this historically, as in a historical separation from God, with Jesus tearing open the veil and allowing all of us access to the throne of grace.

We can also see it as an illustration of our own lives and progress.  We each start with a certain distance to traverse toward God.  There are those who help lead us to God.  Those who object to the notion of “priest” with reference to the pastoral role neglect this aspect, I think.  Some try to push pastor or priest aside because we all have access, but for each person, and even for the community as a whole, there is still a need for the priestly role until we all actually attain that direct access to God.

Those who quibble about sacrificial rules when discussing the sacrifice of Jesus miss the point as well.  The animal sacrifices pointed to elements of our relationship to God and the way in which God related to us.  I’m not arguing here for a directly type-antitype, i.e. singular relationship between these sacrifices and Jesus.  The sacrifices themselves continually pointed Israel to God’s grace, the way it was offered, and the duty it placed on the recipients.

The tabernacle system of worship also included elements of community, of individual responsibility for the group and group responsibility for the individual, of praise, simple worship, and even of the need for certain routines and certainties in our lives.

As I noted regarding the lectionary texts, the serpent was an equivocal symbol.  We are called to look on a symbol that is equivocal when we look at the cross.  Our human eyes will see death.  The Holy Spirit can enlighten us to see life.  The cross looks distinctively different depending on which side you’re on when you look.  Looking back it’s a symbol of life.  Looking forward, it’s a fearful, dangerous thing looking a great deal like death.

The rituals of the tabernacle emphasize life and its importance, but they did so with a great deal of death.  They too had that kind of double look.  We live in a world that is filled with such symbols.  Perhaps we should not be too anxious to reconcile them too thoroughly.

I’m just thinking out loud and rambling.  What do you think?

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One Comment

  1. Mike says:

    Interesting. I was just watching a sermon by Bishop Jakes that addresses this same thing.

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