Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Daily Office Reflection: Atonement, Prayers and Friends

Psalms 61, 62 * 68; Leviticus 16:20-34; 1Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 6:7-15

My friend Mark visited this past weekend. I haven't seen him in 11 months, and we have chatted on the phone on (maybe) 4 occasions over that time period. Yet when he arrived last Thursday it was like we had not been apart for 11 months, but 11 minutes. Just to be clear, we are friends, nothing more: he is as straight as a person can possibly be and, well, I'm pretty gay. Yet for some reason, we click as friends really well.

He is back at his home base of operation and I am, once again, being swallowed back up with the insanity that can be, and is, parish life. I am struck by today's readings and a thread that wraps through them. In Leviticus today, God is continuing in his instructions to Moses of how Aaron is to lead the atonement of the people of Israel. This book of the Torah which has all to do with ritual purity and keeping the people of Israel separate and distinct from those that surrounded them, has in the passages presented today intricate maneuvers in how to accomplish that purity and that separateness, and still pray and be near to God. We have the image presented of Aaron taking the goat, holding his hands over them in a certain way, offering a prayer of confession, symbolically placing all the transgressions and sins on the goat, and then setting the goat free into the wilderness, outside of the camp, and then his own ritual washing and dressing and preparing himself to be presented and pray before the Holy. And in Matthew, we have Jesus telling us to keep it simple: we are taught The Lord's Prayer today. Ritual atonement and a simple yet deeply complex prayer. Sandwiched in between is the selection from First Thessalonians, which instructs us to keep our hearts open to God, to not be closed to God and to always be ready for the thief in the night that is Jesus.

I am thinking about my friend Mark and these passages because I have been feeling guilty about not keeping in better touch, making a more consistent effort to make time to have regular contact with him. But our connection is a strong one and I don't need to worry about "losing" this friendship. With that as an example, how much stronger is the connection that exists between God and me. That love, as much as I might think it is absent on some days, is never absent. Whether we feel the need for the ritual atonement of placing our sins on a goat and sending the creature into the desert, or really engaging in The Lord's Prayer, both are avenues to aid us in keeping our hearts open for this loving thief who will come to us, and in reality, is always with us.

Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.

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