Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Water from the Rock

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Jewish festivals, and the more I learn the more incredible the connections to Jesus seem. Please forgive the somewhat rushed nature of this blog, but to take the time necessary to fully explicate all the amazing connections would take time that I just don’t have right now.

This week, followers of Judaism celebrate the seven-day festival of Sukkot. In Sukkot, they remember God’s provision by symbolically setting up flimsy tents outside in the elements. In this they remember that God liberated them from slavery and kept them safe through the desert, despite having no material possessions. In contrast to “Gog” and “Magog”, the nations in Ezekiel 38 whose names refer in Hebrew to ‘roofs’, the Jews are a nation without roofs. The man of Gog believes in self-security, in providing for himself, in making sure he has enough money and resources and friends to be safe. The man of God, on the other hand, trusts in God, that God will provide.

There is another thing about Sukkot that I find incredibly interesting. In Simchat Beit HaShoeivah, which was practiced each of the seven nights of Sukkot, the priests would pour out water onto the altar. But the name for this does not translate to the ‘dumping of water’, but as the “joyful place for the drawing of water”. As if the water were coming from the altar, not the other way around…How can this be?
Because throughout all the prophecies in the Jewish Scriptures, there are particular ones that foretell of a day when water will flow out from Jerusalem and provide water to the whole arid landscape around it. Water that is so refreshing it turns the Dead Sea into a living sea that can support fish. Water that flows “from the Temple”. Water from a rock? Crazy symbolic...but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Thus the Ceremony at the place of the Drawing of the Water was a foreshadowing of these prophecies. Correspondingly, there was great joy attached to it. In fact, Jewish scriptures say: "He who has not seen the Simchat Beit Hashoeva has never in his life seen joy!" The greatest joy in the world, which only increases in happiness each night, culminating on the final day of the Feast.

Cut to the book of John, chapter 7: “On the last and greatest day of the festival (Sukkot!), Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” This is the day of greatest joy, of greatest happiness, the foreshadowing of the rejuvenation of the world. And Jesus makes this radical claim that the time of the water flowing from the altar was NOW. In the midst of the joyful procession, Jesus proclaims that the source of water was in fact in their midst!

Skip ahead to John Chapter 19: Jesus is dead on the cross. Then, “one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.”
It seems this tiny detail, a flow of blood and water from Jesus side, is so important that John has to swear immediately afterwards that it is true. Why? Because blood is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. And water is necessary to fulfill the prophecies about reviving the world. Jesus uniquely fulfills both aspects at once.

Last week was Yom Kippur, which occurs for forgiveness. This week is Sukkot, for a flood of water to renew the lands. And Jesus combines the two. Blood and water, poured out onto the earth for its full, complete redemption, a redemption that cleanses us and gives life to our world.

[If you’re interested in learning more, check out my earlier blog, Streams in the Desert. Also check out the Wikipedia articles about Sukkot and Simchat Beit HaShoeviah, as well as Zechariah 13-14, Revelation 21-22, Ezekiel 37, and Joel 3:18.]

Face to Face

"For now we see in a mirror, dimly; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known..." (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Today I met a Sudanese refugee and her six year old son. Smiling, she told me her story in broken English. She came to Lancaster about two years ago, and now plans to apply for citizenship in three years. She was from a city about four hours south of Khartoum. "Is that now in South Sudan?" I asked her. No no, she told me, even four hours south of Khartoum is still far from South Sudan. I had kind of guessed that, since she spoke Arabic to her son (a characteristic of the more Arabized north versus the African dialects in the south). With the language barrier and having just met her, I didn't get to ask the full details of her escape from Sudan. But somehow, finally meeting a real-life refugee made things more real to me. Refugees are actual, regular people: normal humans who laugh, cry, eat chips with homemade salsa, and forget the English word for "south". 

The quote at the top of this post is from a chapter in the Bible I read this morning. Little did I know how much it would frame my meeting with this refugee. After weeks of sitting and learning in class (Human Rights, Human Wrongs), us students do "know in part". This is like seeing something in a dirty mirror, dimly...but when we see the face of human rights face to face, we shall know fully. Something will leap out past our intellect, and lodge deep into our hearts. And that is how it should be. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Ultimate Day of Atonement

In some recent research to learn about Yom Kippur, I came across an absolutely astounding writing from the Jewish tradition that if you blink you might miss it (It might take a little bit for me to get to my main point so make sure you read to the end). Yoma is a Jewish rabbinical text from the Babylonian Talmud written around 200 AD/CE.. Read what it says in its section on Yom Kippur:

“Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [‘For the Lord’] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine; and the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves, until R. Johanan b. Zakkai rebuked them, saying: ‘Hekal, Hekal, why wilt thou be the alarmer thyself? I know about thee that thou wilt be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Ido has already prophesied concerning thee: Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars’ (Yoma 39b).”

OK so let’s talk about what’s happening here, in order.

So first, author states that the “lot did not come up in the right hand”; this refers to the lottery selecting which of two goats would be sacrificed ‘for the Lord’ and which one would be driven off into the wilderness ‘for Azazel’. Essentially, having the bad lot ‘for Azazel’ come up first each time for forty years straight was seen as a very bad omen by the author of Yoma (and statistically nearly impossible). It gets worse though.

           The crimson strap becoming white refers to the rope that would be tied to the scapegoat. This was the goat chosen ‘for Azazel’ and thrown off the cliff of Mount Azazel into the wilderness to take away the sins of the people. Many times, Yoma states before the passage I quoted, this scarlet cord would become white as snow once the goat was thrown off, signifying the forgiveness of sins for the people (Isaiah 1:18- “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”). But in Yoma 39b, we see that for the forty years prior to the destruction of the Temple, the scarlet cord never turned white; driving the scapegoat off into the wilderness apparently did not accomplish the forgiveness of sins.

            The “westernmost light” also stopped shining. This refers to the lamp that supernaturally, continuously burned to signify God’s presence and blessing. Now, for some reason the supernatural ceased to burn of its own accord.

            Finally, the passage states the doors of the Hekal would open on their own. The Jewish H]historian Josephus from the first century tells something similar: "At the same festival (Passover)... the Eastern gate of the inner court of the Temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a base armered with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of it's own accord about the sixth our of the night" (The Wars of the Jews, 6.5.3). Thus what we see in both these passages is that the doors to the Temple would open on their own for the forty years prior to the destruction of the Temple.

Why were all these things occurring at the same time? What can possibly explain all these coincidences as reported by the Jewish Talmud? Well, the destruction of the Temple occurred in 70 AD/CE. Forty years prior to that, 30 AD/CE, happens to be exactly when historians believe the rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) was crucified by the Romans.

So in conclusion, after Yeshua was crucified, the lot started coming up in the wrong hand. The scapegoat no longer signified the forgiveness of sins. God’s presence was no longer symbolized by the ever-shining light in the Temple. And the doors blocking access to the Temple would swing open of their own accord, as if now God was henceforth permanently open to all.

Maybe after 30 AD Jesus’ death forever replaced animal sacrifice as the means to forgiveness. Maybe it also signified that’s God’s presence no longer resided in just a building. Maybe the doors to the Temple would swing open to show that God had burst out of his enclosure; a building could no longer contain his glory. Maybe He was now unleashed into the world.

Maybe the Day of Atonement was accomplished once and for all, one dark and glorious day in 30 AD. At least, that’s what Yoma 39b seems say. I’ll let you make your own opinion.