I wrote this for this past weekend’s services at Westwinds Community Church. They asked three people to write from the perspective of three Old Testament Jews. Mine was to be written from the perspective of the High Priest preparing to enter the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement. It was read over the sound system as a disembodied voice in a darkened sanctuary, followed by a time of meditation.
It was somewhat challenging to write, but it was also rewarding and turned into a good personal devotion/meditation time. I rarely take the time to try and put myself into the shoes of a biblical character as I did to write this. It’s obviously all speculation, but I think it’s how I might feel were I to enter into the Most Holy Place.
The thought…unbearable: That I would be petitioned for such a time as this–a time when Yahweh makes atonement for the sins of Israel through me, the high priest. The thought that I alone bear the sins of the nation and make restitution with the Holy God for all–it frightens me; it scares me; it haunts me.
Who am I to bear the sins of many? Who am I to enter into the Most Holy Place, and witness the presence of Yahweh? Who am I to encounter the Ark of the Covenant–which alone can level mountains and part waters?
Worthy or not, the day has come and the petition stands: one must meet Yahweh in the Most Holy Place and that one must be me.
I wash. And I wash some more. I wash until my skin is raw and hurts. The dirt, the smell–they don’t compare to the sin. The sin is what I must cleanse myself of before I enter, for sin is the reason for this all.
Dissatisfied with my purity, I emerge from the water with a heavy spirit; a weight rests upon me I long to abandon. I look about at the stark faces of my people and the weight only increases.
I clothe my skin with linen: tunic, trousers, turban and sash. Priestly garments? No. But holy garments? Quite. This is not a day to be a priest–but a day to be holy.
The system so complex, yet so simple: A God of power and might longs to be with his people–to fellowship with them as in the Garden–but unable to do so because of the rift our choices make. The system requires blood be shed and atonement made to mend the relationship and restore the fellowship.
Dripping with anxious sweat and numbed by nervous chills, I slay a bull, then a ram–all beasts without blemish. I make perfect sacrifice and ultimate atonement for the sins of myself and my family.
I do this not because I understand the mystery of Yahweh and logic of the system. But I do this because the LORD has asked this of me. I do this in awe and wonder and reverence because this is what must be done, lest we die.
A goat must be slain, but not yet. It must wait until after incense is offered. I chose two and cast lots for the last. One will die, one will walk. One will be sacrificed for the sins of all and one will carry them away.
My pulse speeds and my mind races as I prepare the censer with burning altar coals and grind sweet incense. I do this methodically and thoroughly, for I know the cloud it will form will keep me alive. It will be the only barrier between me and Yahweh.
Weak with anticipation, I turn and face the temple. Each step forward exposes the battlefield that is my mind. I long this day to be over, for my encounter with God to have passed. I long for the time when my priestly role will be deemed unnecessary by Yahweh–the day when another system is in place.
As I pass into the Holy Place, I discover new-found strength…but with it new-found fear.
Veils stand before me. The glory of the LORD I can not behold, but his presence saturates the air I consume.
And I enter the Most Holy Place…knees trembling…heart pounding…breathless.