Perhaps this imagery goes without saying but I think there is still significant contemporary theo-political content to be developed from the Pentateuch. Here are some excerpts from last Sunday’s sermon on Leviticus 19,
I think one of the most misunderstood aspects of Leviticus as well as the first five books of the Old Testament in general is the notion that the commandments given represent some sort of static or fixed law. The center of Old Testament faith is not the following of particular laws. This may flow out from the center but the center of Old Testament faith is the presence of God. Everything in Leviticus as well as Exodus and Numbers finds its orientation in relationship with the Holy of Holies, the center of the Tabernacle, which was the Tent of Meeting, around which the Israelites camped as they travelled in the wilderness and when they first settled in Canaan. And what is at the center of the Holy of Holies? Inside that space is the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is a box covered with a lid sometimes called the Mercy Seat that had two angels, called cherubim, mounted on either side on top. I view the Ark as a sort of frame.
At the center of other religions at that time there would tend to be a physical idol that would represent who or what was being worshipped. However, in the Tabernacle there was an empty space between the wings of the cherubim on top of the Ark. In the book of Exodus God says to Moses, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the covenant, I will deliver to you all my commands for the Israelites.” What is the significance of this image? God comes to meet with Moses from the place that humanity cannot control and confine, in the space that is left open and empty. God cannot be directly equated with our conceptions, with our tradition or with our expectations. So while we have the framework, so to speak, of ethics and tradition that provide some continuity and stability we must always be open to the newness or aliveness that the love of God will speak into situations.
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The Tabernacle by its nature is movable. The Tabernacle as well as Mt. Sinai exist in a special place in the Old Testament story. These sites exist between the experience of slavery in Egypt on one side and the experience of slowing taking power and control in Canaan on the other side. The Tabernacle exists in the freedom of reliance and dependence on God between and therefore beyond being enslaved or being in control. And as the author of the Gospel of John put it so well of Jesus saying literally that “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” We are to learn to be a tabernacling people. . . . We remain a people with history and tradition but can these things be dismantled, stakes pulled up, to set up the site again in a new place?
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And so like the nomadic Hebrew people of the wilderness we must nourish the ability to migrate, gather and frame the possibility of God’s holiness over the spaces between slavery and control. We gather and walk with one another and with our neighbours seeing how our objects, our actions and our minds relate to one another. This is the body of Christ that walked the earth 2000 years ago. He never grasped for political and social control and even when his body was ultimately grasped by these forms of control he never became enslaved to them. He always held open that space for the love of God which enters the world as the love of our neighbour as our self. This is to be the body of Christ today, that is the church, it is to spread and wander with eyes attentive to power and bondage and then to stand between them.