The Story of Forty: The Lent You Haven’t Heard

Every year, I am constantly thrown off by Lent. We say that it lasts 40 days, but there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. So why do we say forty? I could go into this boring history: I could tell you how the lunar and solar calendar don’t get along, which resulted in an annual 46 day problem. I could tell  you that some traditions don’t count Holy Week as  being a part of Lent while others don’t count Sundays. But in the end, that conversation tells us very little about the theology behind Lent. So instead, I am going to tell you a different story. I am going to tell you about the Story of Forty.

The Story of Forty

When humanity had corrupted the earth, when they no longer recognized who they were created to be, it was time for God to demonstrate Who He was. So he unleashed the waters of Chaos, waters that He once barred in Creation. So once again, God let Chaos reign. So Chaos rained for Forty days.

For Forty days and Forty nights the world was submerged.  And a Biblical theme was born. Why Forty? Why not some other number? Is there a reason for this reoccurring number? Answer to that question is, “Yes”.  Numbers are used for more than counting in Hebrew literature. They typically represent an idea. So before we can understand Forty, we must first look at the two numbers that comprise it.
Continue reading “The Story of Forty: The Lent You Haven’t Heard”

Day of Atonement: Thoughts After Ash Wednesday

 This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.– Leviticus 16:34
“Remember that you are dust, and to the dust you will return” – Anglican Liturgy

 

Jerusalem, 50 BC:

Baruch felt a lump rise in his throat as he approached the walls of the Temple Court in Jerusalem. His small flock of goats had traveled with him from Bethlehem to Jerusalem over the last few days, and sadly, he knew the lives of four of them were coming to an end.

Baruch was no stranger to the death of his animals. As a shepherd among the priestly order, he was used to making the five mile trip to Jerusalem; used to handing the best of his goats over to the Levites. But today was a personal first; today he would be handing over the four best of his flock for a very specific purpose.

So it was with a heavy heart that Baruch entered the temple courts as his flock was picked over.  While four of the unblemished animals were taken, he looked over and saw a large bull being brought through the southern temple door, a doorway that was reserved only for the transportation of animals to sacrifice.

Baruch felt out of place on this dawn morning. Normally, the temple would be rowdy with sound. Horns would be blown to welcome the new day, coins could be heard rattling as they fell into clay pots, the hooting of hundreds of pigeons would resound, teachers would yell across the courtyard while observant women chanted from the upper walls. But not on this dawning day.

Today, the court and the temple stood silent.

Continue reading “Day of Atonement: Thoughts After Ash Wednesday”

Image of God: Dust of the Earth

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:26

  • “Then the LORD God formed the man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” – Genesis 2:7-8

Sumer, 2800 BC:

The largest city in the Fertile Crescent is home to hundreds of people, thousands of animals, family houses, and a giant Temple that stretches to the sky. But at night the bloated city sleeps. Except on this night an odd group of people move throughout the tired walls as the midnight darkness descends over the land. In the pale moonlight the small band of men move their way towards the sacred garden within the city walls.

Among this group of people are a few temple priests, an idol-maker, and his apprentice son. In the hands of the elder craftsman is an earthen idol, a little man with small arms, strong legs, and painted eyes. The craftsman’s son holds another idol, a stone woman with large breasts, wide hips, and a jeweled necklace. The men are careful as they bare these precious vessels across the city. And the tools that were used to make them hang from sacks across the idol-makers’ backs.

The group slows as they approach the city’s sacred garden. Once they cross the threshold into the lush greenery, the craftsmen hold out the idols for the priests to take. Once the priests take hold of them, they start to sing the sacred chants. The craftsman’s son tries to follow the priests to the center of the garden but his father grabs him by the arm and shakes his head. They are not needed yet – they should not approach the sacred births.

The priests place the wooden images on the ground at the foot of an Cedar tree. More incantations are sung as the minutes pass slowly. It is here, in this scared garden that the priests wash out the eyes and the mouths of the wooden idols: for they are about to witness the god’s births into the city.

 

Although the gods exist transcendent, high and mighty, it is this ceremony that will allow the deities to be born into the city walls and installed into the holy temple. Once the washing of the idols is complete, a heaviness falls in the garden for the idols have awakened. The small band of men now have an audience.  The priests turn towards the two idol-makers and call them forward. Both father and son walk slowly towards the priests, wary of looking the living idols in the eye.  The gods now live within these humanoid vessels – watching the next moments take place.

The priests pour water onto the hands of the craftsmen responsible for the creation of the idols.  Just as the gods had come alive in their washing, so too the hands of the craftsman must be put to death. And as the water is poured over the idol-maker’s hands, another chant is lifted up to the solid images, ever-watching. These men must be forgiven of their guilt; for they are guilty of making the gods. Once their hands are washed clean and the memory of their shame is removed, the small band of men take the living idols and the tools that were used to make them out of the garden and up to the temple.

Once they make the climb to the top of the temple, the priests install the idols to the highest place of worship. Now, the gods are able to oversee everything that happens within the city walls. But the gods have not been appeased yet. The craftsman have not been fully forgiven. The priests sacrifice a sheep on the grand altar. Once dead, the animal is cut open and the tools that were used to create the the idols are put within the sheep’s body. Then, the heavy carcass is carried out of the city gates and placed in the river where all memory will be washed from the tools. It can never be acknowledged that humans and metal made these gods incarnate.

As the dawn sun begins to rise and the city awakens to a new day, the small band return to their homes clean, having witnessed the birth of the gods, and their own forgiveness. For on this night, man created the gods in their own images, in the images of humanity they were created.

Nearly a thousand miles away in an unknown land, a man named Abraham tells his own son a different story about the God that they serve. This story does not involve idols and tools. Instead, it involves the dust of the earth.

In Genesis we read about a God who wants to make man in His image. This God is not interested in being created in our own humanoid likeness. Instead, both male and female are created to take form after Him. Genesis 2 demonstrates how God creates a man, much like the idol-makers do, and then brings him into a sacred garden. But instead of incantations and ritualistic washing, God simply breathes life into the dust, and man is formed. Then, this man is placed in God’s sacred garden to live. Man is not taken to temple to be worshiped like the idols were but stays in the garden so he might worship God instead.

Much like the Ancient cities of biblical times, I often find myself believing that within my solid walls, tall buildings, and financial security, the world revolves around myself. My money, my skills, and my abilities, like the jewels and paint placed on the idol, are what adorns me. I find myself believing that these things give me worth; give me life.  I start to think that the world, including God, is defined by me. He waits on my schedule, my skill, and my talent.  Often, my actions demonstrate that I control Him, make Him, and move Him wherever I want Him to go.  I fit Him into my life thinking that I can wash my hands of Him and bury the proof of my crimes in a river.

But in Genesis, God does not ask me to be adorned with jewels and paint. Instead, I am adorned with dust. I read about a God who calls me to be something more than my money, my shedule, my skill, and my talent.  He calls me instead, to look like Him in my most humble and barest form: the dust.

I am not supposed to make my life into a temple. I am not called to rely on myself for His benefit (as if I could) but to depend on Him. I am the created one in His everlasting garden. I am the one who was been molded together. I am the one who received His breath of life. For I have been made in the image of God; I have been created out of the dust of the earth.

So why do I constantly disguise myself a godlike jewel when I can rest in His garden as the dust?