Friday, March 29, 2013

Exodus 28:1-29:46


Priestly vestments have been in the news lately. Recently resigned Pope Benedict XVI used to deck himself out in the full papal regalia, from the zuchetto atop his head to the red shoes on his feet. Newly elected Pope Francis I has taken a different sartorial path and is perceived, by some, to be sending a message. Clothes, after all, make the man.

In my Evangelical Lutheran Church in America we have a tradition of clerical clothing. Pastors may wear clerical collars, but they are by no means required to do so. I personally put on a collar when it is important for me to be identified as a pastor.

Likewise, when presiding at worship, pastors may, depending on the occasion, wear robes, stoles, chasubles, etc. But again, vestments are not required of us. Some pastors have eschewed the practice because they think it is poorly understood in our culture and off-putting for those not raised in our church tradition.

Personally, I like vestments. They serve to identify the role of the worship leader. Even those who don't know what the various items signify ( e.g. the stole is worn by an ordained pastor; the chasuble is worn by the presiding minister at Communion) will recognize that the person wearing the vestments is filling a certain role, a certain function in the assembly.

Clerical vestments are also something of an equalizer. Under those robes the pastor may be wearing a tuxedo or overalls. You can't tell. And that's the point. The vestments take the focus off of the person wearing them, and puts it on the role that the person is filling.

Yes, in our democratic society, vestments might be taken as creating a distinction between pastor and congregation that we find unseemly. I suppose that some pastors want to be seen as one with their worshiping community. But as the worship leader, as the one standing and facing the rest of the community, there is already a distinction whether one wears the robes or not. Perhaps it is the responsibility of the one wearing the robes to make clear that the distinction is only one of function, not of status.

These are complicated issues. What's your opinion?

They were less complicated in ancient Israel where the priesthood was hereditary. It belonged to the sons of Aaron. They wore the priestly garments described in Exodus 28 when they functioned as priests, but they had the right to wear them because of their status as priests.

In Exodus 28, the Lord gives Moses instruction concerning the priestly vestments. Aaron, as high priest, is to wear a breastpiece, an ephod (a kind of vest to which the breastpiece was attached, a robe, a tunic, a turban and a sash. The breastpiece was adorned with precious stones, one for each of Israel's tribes, and another two called the Urim and Thummim which were used, somehow, to divine YHWH's will.

The priests are also required to wear underpants for the same reason we were told in chapter 20 that altars were to not to have steps. God really doesn't want to see that!

The one item of clothing not mentioned is footwear. I guess the priests of ancient Israel didn't wear kicky Pradas like Pope Benedict. Did they wear shoes at all? Or did they go barefoot on holy ground like Moses at the burning bush back in Exodus 3?

Chapter 28 contains instructions for the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests. There are multiple animal sacrifices for a variety of purposes and blood splashed, spread, and sprinkled around freely. I can't help but think of the mess it would make of those beautiful vestments.

Next Exodus 30-32.

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