Some of you are doing a read through the Bible in a year plan. And some of you are reading through Leviticus right now, have recently completed it, or if you are like most of us, maybe you stopped reading your reading plan in Leviticus.
I recently have been reflecting on the significance of atonement, and I was struck by Leviticus 1:4. “He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.”
Atonement is personal. It’s about me and God. It is not about “me and God” apart from the community of God, but it is precisely about me. It cuts right to me specifically. I desperately and personally need atonement. If you keep reading Leviticus, you’ll find a dizzying number of sacrifices: the burnt offerings, the grain offerings, the peace offerings, the sin offerings, and the guilt offerings. And that is just in the first five chapters; there are twenty-five more chapters to go! (They aren’t all about sacrifices, but there are twenty-five more chapters of instructions for how to live as God’s rescued and covenant people.)
Let’s step back and return to the very first offering described in Leviticus; the burnt offering. “He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him” (Leviticus 1:4). Think about the significance of this. Imagine taking an animal from your flock or herd, one that is healthy, and strong; looking the animal in the eyes, laying your hand on his head, and then slitting his throat.
Most of us don’t have cattle, or herds (some of us here do), but we do have pets, cats or dogs. Thinking about the personal nature of atonement should cut us deep. It’s not something that is far away, but it’s something that is about you, and about me, personally.
The Scripture teaches us that the old sacrificial system was incomplete; it was just a shadow of what was coming that is perfected. The daily sacrifices, and the litany of rules to follow have been completely and fully fulfilled for us — by Jesus, the one man who was touched and touched the leper, the woman with internal bleeding, the blind, the beggar, the lame, and the mute. The one man who healed every kind of disease and brokenness. The one man who was crucified on the cross. Jesus fulfilled, once and for all, every requirement of the law; everything required for us to be made whole and at peace with God.
The first of the month, we take communion, which is not a sacrifice. It’s not something that adds anything to what Christ has already accomplished, but it is God’s gift to us; a gift of the tangible, physical expression of the gospel. It’s a way to “eat the gospel.” Take the bread, take the cup, feel its physicalness. Crush the bread between your teeth, swallow, feel its personalness. Drink the wine. Remember Jesus, who died for you. Remember Jesus, who died so that you may live at peace with God.