Friday, May 11

Ephesians 4:7-16: the uniqueness of each of us does not mean that we are considered apart from the others. Even in their uniqueness, Christians are not individualists. The gift of Christ to each of us is directed to the building up of all of us. Paul thus describes that building up, “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

This is why the gift of Christ is “according to measure”—kata metron. We are living stones proportioned to fit into the larger structure, which Paul in this passage calls “the body of Christ.”

The true human destiny, the goal of human history, is not an abstraction. Paul describes it as man in His perfection, eis andra teleion, which he identifies as “the fullness of Christ.” Thus, Paul uses the expression metros a second time, speaking of the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The two “measures” are proportioned to one another. The true future of each of us is the destiny of all of us.

Ezekiel 41: Everything in the temple expresses the principles of mathematics. In the Bible (as in Pythagoras and Plato), numbers are sacred; they are spiritual emanations of God’s creative act, giving form, structure, and significance to the universe. Numbers are the basis of “form,” that internal principle of proportion that causes things to be what they are. And because the knowledge of anything consists in the comprehension of its form, all knowledge involves a mathematical perception, a “measure,” the perception of “limits,” which “define” things.

Even this future temple—a reflection of the heavenly sanctuary seen by Moses on Mount Sinai—now being “visited” in prophetic vision by Ezekiel, is shaped (that is, receives its form) by the principles of measurement. Because the house of God is a house of order, not chaos, it is a house structured according to the eternal principles of proportion.

Step by step, and in reverent silence, the angelic tour guide patiently lays his royal cubit stick to determine the proportions of the sacred space. The unit of measure that he employs is the royal cubit, which in modern measurement is 52.5 centimeters or 20.6692 inches.

When the heavenly minister enters the Holy of Holies to take its measure in verses 3-4, Ezekiel reverently remains outside; when that inner sanctuary has been measured, the angel gives the prophet a brief explanation.

Ezekiel also receives an explanation of the altar in verse 22. The elaborate carvings described in verses 19-26 are early proof that the Jews of that period (and for centuries to come, well into the Christian era), did not interpret the Decalogue as prohibiting works of representative art in places of worship.

Saturday, May 11

John 15:18-27: Hitherto in these words, the accent falls on the word, “live.” Now He begins to speak of “hatred,” because those who know neither Him nor His Father are unfamiliar with “love (agape. Thus, the “world,” understood as humanity opposed to God, will hate the disciples of Jesus, just as they have hated Jesus Himself.

This hatred, too, was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures, specifically in Psalm 109 (Greek and Latin 108), a text identified here as “their Law” (“Law” understood here as the Old Testament in general). Evidently, Jesus thought about this psalm a good deal during the closing days of His earthly life. One observes, for instance, that it contains a prophecy of the betrayal by Judas (cf. Acts 1:20).

Because of the dark atmosphere of this psalm, some modern readers are uncomfortable with it. (Its recitation is not prescribed, for instance, in that edition of The Book of Common Prayer currently in use in the Episcopal Church.) If the atmosphere of this psalm is dark, however, it is no darker than the Upper Room where Jesus cited it, shortly after identifying His betrayer. This psalm deals with the danger of damnation.

During the several minutes that it takes to pray through this psalm, we are brought face to face with the real possibility of eternal loss and reminded that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). No one enjoys being warned that the apostasy of Judas could be chosen by any one of us. Yet, the story pointedly appears in all four Gospels. Over and over, eight times, the New Testament stresses that the betrayer arose from among the chosen, “one of the Twelve.” Such too is the distressing, but very necessary, sane, and sobering thought raised in this important psalm.

Ezekiel 42: This chapter of Ezekiel elaborately describes the temple area enclosed by a wall that made “a separation between the holy and the common” (42:20). In Holy Scripture there is a strong sense of sacred space, a consecrated area devoted solely to sacred worship. Indeed, the Greek verb meaning to “divide” (temno) provides the root of our word “temple,” designating a special space set apart or “divided” for sacred worship. (The same verbal root gives us such English words as “time” and “temporal.” Just as space is “divided,” so is time.)

The original type of such space was the area adjacent to the Burning Bush, which Moses could not enter without removing his shoes. (Observe that in Ezekiel 42:14, the priests were required to change their clothing when they entered or left the temple. Secular clothing was inappropriate within the sacred space, and liturgical clothing was inappropriate outside of it.)

When Moses later received the Law, all of Mount Sinai became sacred space, off-limits except to those designated to approach the Divine Presence. In varying gradations, all the space of the temple was consecrated and, therefore, off-limits except to those designated for entrance. Most sacred of all was the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest could enter, nor could even he enter it except on the holiest day of the year (the divided and thereby consecrated “time”), which was the Day of the Atonement.

Here on earth, all consecrations of space are reflections of heaven itself, that tabernacle not made with hands, where our own Forerunner and High Priest has entered once and for all, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

Sunday, May 13

Ephesians 4:1-6: This text speaks of the unity of the Church by a sevenfold use of the word “one”:
(1) one body and
(2) one Spirit, just as you were called in
(3) one hope of your calling;
(4) one Lord,
(5) one faith,
(6) one baptism;
(7) one God and Father of all.

This combination of the word “one” with the number “seven” is significant, because in the Bible “seven” is the number of fullness and perfection. This text points, then, to the perfection of unity that must obtain in the Church of Jesus Christ. This is what Paul refers to here as “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

This perfection of unity, “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” is a gift of God, but the full context of the reference shows that considerable human effort is required for its maintenance. Thus St. Paul describes Christians as “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

That is to say, “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” does not take care of itself. It requires diligent maintenance: spoudazontes terein, “striving to guard.” This is a vigorous expression. The verb spoudazo indicates great effort, zeal, and struggle. The “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is something that must be worked at. The other verb, tereo, which means “to guard,” indicates that “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is subject to attack. It can be undone and destroyed. Even as a gift from God, it cannot be simply presupposed and taken for granted. It requires a certain effort at vigilance.

Monday, May 14

Psalms 89 (Greek & Latin 88): This psalm is constructed in three parts. The first has to do with God’s activity in the creation of the heavens and the earth, the second with His covenant and promise with respect to the house of David, and the third with certain crises of history that threaten that covenant and put its promise at peril. All three themes are organically connected, because all God’s dealings with this world are of whole cloth, including the grace of creation. All the historical covenants are expressions of the one covenant. From the beginning of time there has been only one God, one Lord, one faith.

The mystery of Christ was already present, when the voice of God called out into the aboriginal darkness of non-being, “Let there be light.” Christ is no afterthought in the divine plan; God has no relations with this world except in Christ. Even when the Father’s voice imposed form over the chaos of nonexistence, it was the form contained in His Word, who is His Son. God’s covenant with creation was the initial exercise in applied Christology.

The first part of our psalm, taking up the theme of this divine imposition of form over chaos, emphasizes the structural constancy of the universe, but already this cosmic theme is introduced in a setting best described as messianic. That is to say, already anticipating the psalm’s second part, the permanence of the Davidic throne is related to the unvarying dependability of the heavenly bodies, for both things are given shape by God’s holy word and sworn resolve.

Now, as Christians, we know that God’s solemn promise to David, with respect to the everlasting stability of his throne, is fulfilled in the kingship of Christ, for the Son of David now sits forever enthroned at God’s right hand, executing both prophecy and promise. Only in Christ do we find the key to the mystery of this psalm.

The theological bond joining the creation to David, is Christ: “God . . . has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds. . . . But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.’ . . . And: ‘You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, / And the heavens are the work of Your hands’” (Heb. 1:1, 2, 8, 10). The regal, messianic covenant of sonship is related to the fixed structure of the very world, because both realities are rooted in Christ. As font and inner form, He is their common warrant.

In fact, nonetheless, both things, God’s creation and His covenant, appear ever under threat throughout history, which theme brings us to the third part of our psalm. In this section we pray repeatedly for God’s vindication of the messianic covenant, which man in his rebellion endeavors ever to overthrow. Indeed, in our own times this struggle seems to have intensified and entered a new phase.

Ezekiel 43: God’s glory, which Ezekiel had seen depart eastward from the temple in 11:23, now returns from the same direction. This glory of God, witness by the prophet, was revealed in a great luminosity, in reference to which we are surely correct in thinking of the bright cloud of fire that led Israel through the Red Sea and the Sinai desert. This same divine luminosity adorned the face of Christ our Lord at His Transfiguration and is an image of divine revelation itself (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6).

When the divine glory returns to the temple, it is accompanied, Ezekiel tells us, by all the mystic images that he originally saw at the time of his calling, at the beginning of this book. In verse 10 he is commissioned to write a description of all that he sees, and there immediately follows an account of the altar (verses 13-17) and its construction and consecration (verses 18-27).

One is particularly struck by the detail that this new altar must be ascended by stairs, a feature expressly prohibited in Exodus 20:25-26.

Ezekiel 44: The first three verses of this chapter testify to the special holiness of the temple’s east gate, consecrated by the entrance of God’s glory through it. This gate must remain sealed forever. Because God Himself has used this gate, the prophet is told, no one else may do so. Even the prince, who may approach the gate from the vestibule to the west of it, may not pass through the gate itself, though he is permitted to eat certain consecrated foods while within the gateway.

This account of the consecration of the temple’s eastern gate, by reason of God’s having entered it, is read at Vespers on most feast days of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Eastern Orthodox Church, which interprets the text as an image prophetic of Mary’s perpetual virginity. According to this interpretation, her very body, because God’s Word used it as His entrance into this world by means of the Incarnation, was consecrated in an exclusive way; if this was the case with respect to the divine cloud of God’s glory in the Old Testament, how much more with respect to God’s definitive entry into human life by Incarnation. After His passage through it, the door of His entrance, because it was definitively consecrated, must remain forever shut. (Mary’s perpetual virginity, unquestioned for centuries and considered defined dogma by most Christians throughout the world, was consistently defended by the Protestant Reformers. Its common denial nowadays is not a product of Protestantism, but of modern secularism that has no sense of physical consecration.)

The rest of this chapter deals with the consecration of the priests and Levites. Himself a member of the priestly family, Ezekiel habitually shows special concern for the distinction between holy and profane, as we see here in verses 17-27.

Tuesday, May 15

Psalms 97 (Greek & Latin 96): This is among those psalms that speak of the Lord’s symbolic enthronement in that holy place: “The Lord is King, let the peoples rage; He thrones upon the cherubim, let the earth be shaken.”

This psalm also speaks of the worship offered to the Lord in that holy place by the same three men of whom we have been speaking: “Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among those who call on His name, they called upon the Lord, and He answered them.”

We Christians pray, then, to be admitted, reverently, to the realm of holiness, as were God’s servants of old; “let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28). Thus, we pray in this psalm: “The Lord is great in Sion, and He is exalted over all peoples. Let them confess Your great name, for fearsome it is, and holy. . . . Exalt the Lord our God, and bow down before His footstool, for He is holy.”

In another and deeper sense, nonetheless, our own boldness of worship before the Lord may be said to surpass that of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. They stood and ministered before a “real presence” of God, certainly, but it was enshrined in a tabernacle made with human hands. The true Holy of Holies, however, that to which we ourselves draw near, is in “the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (Heb. 9:11).

The true “mercy seat” (hilastrion) where God meets us is Christ our Lord (cf. Rom. 3:25, textual variant), who “has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself” (Heb. 9:24). For us to worship in the name of Jesus means to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).

Ezekiel 45: The first eight verses of this chapter treat of particular dispositions of real estate in Jerusalem: for the holy place, for the priests and Levites, and for the people and the prince. The disposition of the land is arranged in relation to the temple, with the property of the priests around it, and the real estate of the prince and the citizens out beyond that of the priests. The arrangement of the land in and around Jerusalem thus reflects the structure of society, with God at the center, then His ministers, and then the civic order.

The thought of Ezekiel envisions, then, the restoration of theocracy. His vision is entirely ideal, because even from the perspectives of demography and topography, Ezekiel’s purely symmetric arrangement would be impossible to implement on actual real estate on earth. Nonetheless, this same passion for precision must be applied to proper measurements and currency (verses 10-12), and to appropriate offerings to be brought for the various public sacrifices (verses 13-25). In offering these gifts, the people shall act through their prince (verses 16-17).

Wednesday, May 16

John 17:1-10: Here the priestly quality of Jesus’ prayer is apparent in its references to consecration. Here the verb hagiazo, to “sanctify” or “consecrate,” appears three times in immediate succession: “Consecrate them in truth. . . . And for their sakes I consecrate myself, that they themselves, likewise, may be consecrated in truth.”

In the traditional Greek translation (Septuagint) of the Torah, the verb hagiazo (along with its nominal cognates) is frequently found in references to the consecration of the priests and of the appointments of the priestly ministry (for instance, twelve times in Exodus 29 and six times in Leviticus 22). The use of this same verb in Jesus’ prayer summons to mind those priestly associations in the Torah. The verb’s concentrated appearance in this Johannine prayer amply explains why Christians have long referred to it as “high priestly.” This description manifests an intuition—as early as Cyril of Alexandria—that the Johannine Christ is especially Christ the Priest.

The faith of the first Christians included the perception that the priestly self-consecration of Jesus was an essential component of Redemption. That is to say, they believed that Jesus knew himself to be the priest and that, as the priest, he offered himself in sacrifice in an intentional way.

Ezekiel 46: In this chapter the interest goes from sacred space to sacred time. The west gate of the temple’s inner court, the gate facing east, is to remain closed on ordinary work days, but the Sabbath and the monthly feast day (“the new moon”) are to be marked by the gate’s opening (verse 1).

The civil authority (“the prince”) will regularly consecrate the life of the nation by appearing reverently at that gate on those appointed days to present a special sacrifice (verses 2,8). The gate will also be opened for the prince whenever devotion prompts him to make an additional offering (verse 12). The prince shall also see to it that regular offerings are made, twice daily, at morning and at evening.

The prayers designated for those two times of daily sacrifice became a standard component of Jewish piety and eventually passed into Christian discipline as the “canonical hours” of Matins and Vespers; this explains the language about sacrifice found in the traditional texts of those two daily services of prayer.

Verse 18 indicates a return to the ancient Mosaic mandate keeping inherited real estate within family ownership (cf. Leviticus 25:10-17).

Thursday, May 17

Psalms 105 (Greek & Latin 104): This psalm represents a small exercise in biblical narrative. It begins with Abraham and ends with the Sinai covenant.

Following the primitive schema preserved in Deuteronomy 26:1–9, the narrative in this psalm breaks into three parts: the Patriarchs, the sojourn in Egypt, and the Exodus, all of them joined by the themes of God’s fidelity to His covenant promises and His active providence in fulfilling them.

While the whole psalm deals with God’s providence on behalf of all the people, the second section, dealing with the sojourn in Egypt, also includes what we may think of as “individual” providence. What the Bible portrays as God’s care for the history of the whole people of Israel is shown also to be at work in the life and destiny of a single man. It is the awesome story of Joseph and God’s care for him through many trials. Sold by his brothers into Egypt, falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned, forsaken for twenty years, the faith of Joseph was still able to say, at the end: “God sent me before you to preserve life. . . . God sent me before you. . . . But as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 45:5, 7; 50:20).

Joseph’s faith in God’s providence, even as he was proved by steel and fire, is preserved also in this psalm: “[God] sent a man before them, Joseph, sold into slavery. They humbled his feet with fetters; his soul was shackled in iron. Until his word came to pass, the word of the Lord seared through him.”

Ezekiel 47: A secret spring, flowing from the holy place, sends fresh waters eastward, and Ezekiel is taken outside to see the growing stream. Since the eastern gate of the temple is forever locked and the southern gate lies in the area of the flooding water, he exits the temple by the north gate. The river deepens as it goes along through the Judean desert until it reaches the Dead Sea (verse 8). This stagnant pool is refreshed by the new living water flowing from the temple, so that fish can live in it and trees grow on its banks.

This is the living water of which Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman in John 4. This is the stream of Genesis 2:10-14 and Revelation 22:1-2. It is the living water of Pentecost. This living stream, flowing from God’s glory in the temple, is the life-giving water of Baptism.

The rest of this chapter (verses 13-23) contains a detailed geographical outline of the Promised Land, which prepares for the distribution among the twelve tribes in the next chapter.

One observes in this section (verse 22) an attitude toward non-Israelites far more positive than the attitude in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which narrate Israel’s actual return to the Promised Land.

Friday, May 18

John 17:20-26: Jesus, having prayed for Himself (verses 1-4) and for His immediate disciples (verses 9-17), now prays for the whole People of God, those who “believe in me” through the testimony of the Apostles. Jesus’ prayer for this larger group is likewise manifold; it includes the unity of the believers, the proclamation of the Gospel to the world, and the revelation of the divine glory: “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in me, and I in You . . . that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent me, and have loved them as You have loved me . . . that they may behold my glory which You have given me.”

We observe that the three-fold structure of this prayer of Jesus corresponds to the triple concern of the officiating priest on Yom Kippur, as prescribed in Leviticus 16: First—and second—the priest makes the sin offering (hahatta’th), “which is for himself, and to make atonement (kipper) for himself and for his household” (Leviticus 16:6, 11). Third, having sprinkled the blood of the victim on the mercy seat (kapporet), the priest offers another victim, “which is for the people” (16:14-15).

Thus, Leviticus directs specific attention to the triple concern of Yom Kippur, during the ritual of which the priest “makes atonement (kipper) [1] for himself, [2] for his household, and [3] for all the assembly of Israel” (16:17). John’s parallel with the Levitical text is striking.

Ezekiel 48: This highly schematic distribution of the Holy Land (into long narrow strips running east/west) is marked by several features: First, it is based on the disposition of the temple and adjoining areas as described in Chapter 45. Second, it is completely theoretical, inasmuch as the majority of the twelve tribes of Israel no longer existed as such; most of the ten tribes deported by the Assyrians in 722 had long been assimilated into the peoples of Mesopotamia. Third, the division of the land differs very significantly from the ancient division from the time of Joshua. If the tribes of Gad and Zebulon had somehow managed to return, they would have been very surprised to find themselves living in the Negev Desert (verses 26-27) instead of the fertile fields of Galilee!

In short, there are considerable difficulties attendant on interpreting this chapter of Ezekiel as a literal description of Israel’s return to the Holy Land in 538. Like the mystical waters of the previous chapter, this geographical disposition should be interpreted in the light of New Testament ecclesiology, the twelve tribes representing the whole people of God, which is the Church of Jesus Christ.

These twelve tribes will each be honored with a gate entering the new Jerusalem (48:30-35; cf. Revelation 21:12). Instead of Yerushalaim (Jerusalem), the city will be called Adonaishammah (“the Lord is there”). This is a prophecy of God’s New Testament Church, on which the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost.