In seminary we are discussing animal sacrifices of the Old Testament. Ewe, gross, right? We aren't used to slaughtering our own animals like other generations did on a regular basis. We buy our meat shrink wrapped from the grocery store. For a moment try to put the "ewe, gross" response aside and look for the symbolism of the Savior in this story. Then it can become beautiful. (These are possible interpretations of the symbolism. You may see something different.)
Here is a little video we didn't have time to watch today in seminary. It's a poem by President Packer about Christ's ability to heal us as He did lepers. It's from a general conference talk in 1997.
Moses' people are in the desert and they have a new tabernacle where priesthood ceremonies take place. Imagine you are watching as a leper approaches the temple. He is holding a cage with a couple birds inside. Then watch the scene unfold. This whole batch of rich symbolism is found in the first eight verses of Leviticus chapter 14.
A leper is deemed unclean and must live outside the camp, calling out "Unclean, unclean," to warn people not to come close because the disease was so contagious. Likewise a person who sins (you and me and every other person on the planet except Jesus Christ) is unclean and cannot dwell in God’s presence.
The priest comes to the leper outside the camp. Likewise caring bishops go out of their way to help a person repent if the sin is serious and needs priesthood help. The priest decides if the leprosy is healed, like the bishop judges through revelation if the person has fully repented and is ready to return to full membership privileges of partaking of the sacrament, holding callings, and serving in the temple.
The healed leper brings two birds to the tabernacle hoping to be deemed clean and participate in a cleansing ceremony. By the way, two birds were the sacrifice Joseph and Mary brought to the temple when Jesus was a baby. One bird represents Savior, and the other represents the repentant person.
Along with the two birds, the cleansing ceremony uses three additional items:
- Cedar wood representing Christ’s cross
- A scarlet dyed cloth representing the blood of Christ's Atonement, and foreshadowing mocking Christ with a scarlet robe before His crucifixion (see footnote Exodus 12:4a), also our sins as red as scarlet can become white as snow through Christ's blood
- Hyssop which is a purifying plant, and when Christ was thirsty on the cross someone dipped hyssop in vinegar and put it to his mouth
One bird -- representing Christ -- was killed in an earthen vessel, representing Christ being sent to earth to die for us. He was killed over running water, representing Christ offering us living water. Also after Christ died and a soldier pierced his side and out came blood and water.
The second bird stays alive and represented the healed leper, or you and me, repentant sinners. The priest takes the bird along with the wood, scarlet, and hyssop and dips them all in the blood of the killed bird over running water. This represents the cleansing power of the Savior’s blood shed for us.
The priest sprinkles the blood from the killed bird on the healed leper seven times, representing completeness and perfection. We need Christ's blood to wash us completely clean inside and out, all over us. Also Christ is recorded as bleeding from seven places:
- his head (Matt 27:29-30)
- sweat (Luke 22:44)
- face (Isaiah 50:6)
- back (Isaiah 50:6, Matt 27:26
- hands (Psalm 22:16, John 20:25)
- feet (Psalm 22:16)
- side (John 19:34).
The priest pronouncing the leper clean can represent a bishop judging that a repentant person is fully forgiven.
Letting the live bird loose into open field represents freedom and opportunities for the healed leper, and also for the repentant person.
The healed leper washes his clothes, bathes himself, and shaves his hair, representing cleaning up a person’s life from sinful ways and pursuits, baptism cleansing us from sin, and having a fresh start.
Isn't a fresh start what you and I need, every day?
When the healed leper rejoins the camp, it's a beautiful representation of a repentant person being worthy of the Lord's Spirit in his life again, feeling close to the Lord again, and for more serious sins, rejoining the Lord’s covenant people with full membership blessings.
I love the Savior. I love His Atonement.
Christ's Atonement is gruesome and hard to think about, like I feel about killing innocent lambs or birds in the ancient tabernacle of Israel. I don't want someone or something innocent to die for my mistakes. It makes me sad.
But oh how grateful I am that Christ didn't shrink from His most gruesome duty of dying for us, and giving us the chance to transform from unclean to clean, from bondage to freedom, from separation to close to God. I need Him and His healing in my life every day.
Click here to see my favorite quotes about Christ's Atonement.