Friday, May 23, 2008

Divine Death Sentence

My current Morning Prayer readings include Chapter 20 in the Old Testament Book of Numbers.

This morning's lesson included the death of Aaron, the brother of Moses and first High Priest of the Israelites:
22 The whole Israelite community set out from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. 23 At Mount Hor, near the border of Edom, the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 24 "Aaron will be gathered to his people. He will not enter the land I give the Israelites, because both of you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. 25 Get Aaron and his son Eleazar and take them up Mount Hor. 26 Remove Aaron's garments and put them on his son Eleazar, for Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will die there."
27 Moses did as the LORD commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community. 28 Moses removed Aaron's garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain, 29 and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, the entire house of Israel mourned for him thirty days.

Aaron (and later Moses) died outside of the promised land because they had placed their human egos and ways ahead of God's instruction:
7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 "Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink."
9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD's presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them."

Instead of simply speaking God's word to the rock, Moses and Aaron made a dramatic display of striking it, which implied that the miracle was by their own power. And so God sentenced them to die outside of the promised land.

The New Testament calls on followers of Christ to "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature..."(Colossians 3:5) Like wilfull Aaron, every aspect of our life that is not Christ-like will be left to die outside of our "promised land" - the Kingdom of Heaven. This is a painful and mournful process, always taking place during our life in this world.

But along the way, there is beauty and joy as we become new people in Christ. Like Eleazar, the son of Aaron, God invests us with holiness. We are "clothed with Christ" in baptism (Galatians 3:27), and from then on we are being made over into a "holy priesthood" (I Peter 2:5) as we come closer to Christ.

In the Book of Common Prayer (1662), the congregation prays this same Divine Death Sentence over people being Baptized:

O Merciful God, grant that the old Adam in these persons may be so buried, that the new man may be raised up in them. Amen.

Grant that all carnal affections may die in them, and that all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in them. Amen.

Grant that they may have power and strength to have victory, and to triumph, against the devil, the world and the flesh. Amen.

Grant that they, being here dedicated to thee by our office and ministry, may also be endued with heavenly virtues, and everlastingly rewarded, through thy mercy, O blessed Lord God, who dost live, and govern all things, world without end. Amen.

May we all accept the Divine Death Sentence when it comes to our old nature, and rise to new life in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.

1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

Powerful reading, Father. The Divine Death Sentence should always be before us. It should guide our lives.

Christ, by His death tramples down death and to those in the tombs bestows life. Those who have put on Christ in Baptism live no longer to themselves, but by the life HE gives us.