A holy work

Sunday Evening

1 Samuel 16

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Medieval Antiphon

5“Sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.”

The Lutheran community avoids the language of sacrifice with respect to our worship, shaped as we are by the arguments of the 16th century about the sacrifice of the mass. But that language is deep in the tradition of the church. The problem for Luther was the suggestion that in the Holy Communion we are performing some work that merits God’s favor instead of God performing a work to convey to us his favor.

The ancients didn’t have an assembly line for the slaughter of animals. Meat didn’t come sanitized in Styrofoam packages; it was a much more intense affair. I received a tour of a hog slaughtering plant, once. Fortunately, it was off line at the time, but my imagination didn’t have any trouble filling in the details. There was no sense of the sacredness of life, no sense that we were trespassing on the realm of the holy, no sense that humans shouldn’t take life without asking God’s permission and favor. It was no different than the lawn mower factory to which I once upon a time delivered fresh coffee and sandwiches. Keep the line moving.

God gave Noah permission to eat meat, but he set rules – rules to insure that we don’t take life lightly. The slaughter of an animal required that we acknowledge the giver of life. Set within the context of Israel’s worship, the eating of meat becomes a fellowship meal with God. And since that meal was to be shared not only with your family and friends but also with the poor, it was a fellowship with God that anticipated that ultimate banquet where heaven and earth are reconciled and all people are gathered to share God’s table.

A life was sacrificed to create that fellowship meal. When we come to the Lord’s Table, we ought not forget that here, too, a life was sacrificed to create this fellowship between God and ourselves.

When I was a child, we always had to have a bath on Saturday night. It wouldn’t do to go to church with dirty feet even if they were hidden in dress shoes (I grew up in California and it seemed like we went barefoot all summer). My mother certainly would have been ashamed to have the people at church think we were unwashed, but it was more than that. We were coming into God’s presence. We should at least be clean in body even as we began the service with a confession to be clean in spirit.

5“Sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.”

I don’t think about this now – I don’t go barefoot anymore, and I don’t like to start any day unwashed. But I should think about this. I should prepare myself to come into God’s house, to hear his word, to eat at his table. I should be mindful that I am coming together with others to participate in the songs and prayers that proclaim God’s grace and life. I don’t need to wear dress shoes. This is not about old cultural values. It is about recognizing that the work we come to do on Sunday is a holy work. This is not an entertaining diversion, a concert to enjoy, a visit with friends or an interesting lecture. We come together to honor God and to bear witness to his grace and life. We come because we are invited to the master’s table, a holy table, a table paid for at great price.

5“Sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.”

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