Words from the Weary Wilderness - Lenten Journey Day 22
Day Twenty-Two - Saturday, March 26
You are Dirty When You Touch the Dead
Read: Numbers 19:11-22
11 Those who touch the dead body of any human being shall be unclean seven days. 12 They shall purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean; but if they do not purify themselves on the third day and on the seventh day, they will not become clean. 13 All who touch a corpse, the body of a human being who has died, and do not purify themselves, defile the tabernacle of the Lord; such persons shall be cut off from Israel. Since water for cleansing was not dashed on them, they remain unclean; their uncleanness is still on them.
14 This is the law when someone dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent, and everyone who is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days. 15 And every open vessel with no cover fastened on it is unclean. 16 Whoever in the open field touches one who has been killed by a sword, or who has died naturally, or a human bone, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. 17 For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt purification offering, and running water shall be added in a vessel; 18 then a clean person shall take hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent, on all the furnishings, on the persons who were there, and on whoever touched the bone, the slain, the corpse, or the grave. 19 The clean person shall sprinkle the unclean ones on the third day and on the seventh day, thus purifying them on the seventh day. Then they shall wash their clothes and bathe themselves in water, and at evening they shall be clean. 20 Any who are unclean but do not purify themselves, those persons shall be cut off from the assembly, for they have defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. Since the water for cleansing has not been dashed on them, they are unclean.
21 It shall be a perpetual statute for them. The one who sprinkles the water for cleansing shall wash his clothes, and whoever touches the water for cleansing shall be unclean until evening. 22 Whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be unclean until evening.
Today’s Word from the Weary Wilderness: All who touch a corpse, the body of a human being who has died, and do not purify themselves, defile the tabernacle of the Lord; such persons shall be cut off from Israel. (Numbers 19:13)
Reflection: I remember the first time I touched a dead body. One does not forget. I also remember the first time my daughter touched a dead body. She enrolled in Health Sciences in high school, and she spent her evenings and weekends working in a nursing home. She became a sacred servant who held the hand of the dying, called the family in, called the funeral home, and bathed the body. I have always admired her for being that person, and at such a young age. It has given her a sensitivity, but it has also given her courage. She showered when she came home, but we never considered her unclean in the eyes of the church.
Caring for the dead was also important in the ancient world, and certainly in the wilderness. Not everyone who began the journey from Egypt made it to the Promised Land; many died along the way. There are strict cleanliness rules in the Old Testament regarding touching the dead. We imagine today that these came from health concerns that became a part of religious ritual. Lingering still in our own modern psyche is a sense of taboo. In what ways do you see ritual cleansing today? Do you ever feel a need to be cleansed beyond soap and warm water?
Prayer: God of the Wilderness, today we confront death in the wilderness, and its implications for the community. We reflect on what it means to be clean in your eyes. Help us to open our imaginations to learn more about why ritual cleanliness and physical purity was so important to the people of Israel. Help us to walk along with them as we walk through our own wilderness journey during this Lenten season. Cleanse us in every way, as you see need. Amen.
Blessings of Peace and Health,
Rev. Beverly B. Coppley
& Chief Missional Strategist