“The Spirit Knows No Camps:” Message given to NEYM Sessions, 8-5-12

Excerpt from a message given by Jocelyn Burnell, Britain Yearly meeting, to the World Conference of Friends in Nakuru, Kenya:

“In the Old Testament there is only a little talk of personal salvation and a lot of concern about the salvation of the community—the Tribes of Israel—the salvation of people collectively . . . Once a year the High Priest, in fear and trembling, entered the Holy of Holies to ask for absolution for the sins of his tribe. He was not sure he was going to come out alive, and nobody else could enter the Holy of Holies to help him. So he left a corner of his shawl trailing out through the door, so that if he died his body could be retrieved by people outside the Holy of Holies pulling on that corner of the shawl.

He usually did come out alive, and then as described in Leviticus (16, verses 21–22:) “And Aaron [who was the High priest] shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. And the goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” . . .

. . . Being able to get rid of sins like that sounds great, but I wonder . . . just as I have learnt (along with others in the West) that you cannot throw rubbish away, because there is no away, I wonder if you can erase sin so simply? I suspect it may come back to you! So if the world body of Friends, if our community is saved, what does it mean? And what are the marks of a community that is saved? I think it means the following: We are united with God; we work in God's strength; We listen to God and follow God's promptings; We listen to each other, for God's promptings may come through other people; We respect the diversity amongst us: not everyone has the same gifts or the same callings and we know there are many ways to God.”

I’ve spent a long time thinking about that high priest entering the Holy of Holies alone. How frightening it must have been to encounter God behind the veil, alone, carrying that responsibility for the whole community—and yet what a temptation into pride! How flattering and how exciting, to be the privileged one, the one nearest God. 

Since the World Conference, I have started to think that we, liberal unprogrammed Friends, might be that prideful Levitical priest.