Exodus 28 marks the official beginning of the priesthood. Aaron and others had served the Lord by offering sacrifices in for the people, but today’s reading brings us the very first ordination/installation service. This service is the setting apart of a priest or pastor for the specific duties of serving God’s people before Him and leading His people in worship. It is a big deal, though perhaps not as much today as in years past. Just like Aaron and his sons, an ordination service today involves specific clothes. As a newly graduated and called pastor I stood in front of the people of my home congregation in a plain linen robe. After the sermon had been preached and prayers said my friend and president of Wartburg Seminary spoke these words. Before Almighty God, to whom you must give account, and in the presence of this congregation I ask, Will you assume this office, believing that the Church’s call is God’s call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament? My response was I will, and I ask God to help me. He then asked if I would preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, the creeds, and confessions. That was followed by a promise to lead and live by example, to give faithful witness in the world and prayers. There were many pastors from Lincoln, friends who had already been ordained and my home pastors who came forward for the laying on of hands and the blessings. After that, my red stole was placed on my shoulders, a sign that I had been set apart to serve. It was festive, solemn and if I had really taken some time to ponder probably terrifying.
When it was time to be installed, in any church I have served there is another service. Often the bishop is present for the installation. The president of the church council attests to the call issued to the pastor to serve. Part of the installation service involves moving around the worship space. At the baptismal font, a called pastor is reminded that they have been called to baptize, teach, and forgive sins. At the pulpit, the pastor is reminded they are called to proclaim the good news. At the altar, a reminder that they are called to preside over the Lord’s Table. There has never been any sprinkling of blood or dousing with aromatic oil. But just as the worship furnishings were consecrated for Aaron, so those furnishings are the focus of the installation of a pastor in the church. This is the Lutheran tradition. Other traditions might do things differently.
All the garments made for Aaron served a purpose. Both the breastplate and the two stones on his shoulders bore the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. This was a reminder to him that whenever he served, he was not only serving before the Lord, but he was also carrying the people of Israel with him, both on his shoulders and over his heart. He was representing them before the Lord. The High Priest bore the twelve tribes because they were precious in the sight of the Lord. The High Priest was not serving in the tabernacle to show off his beautiful robes, or his special position. The breastplate contained twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel. The stones were different and distinct, just like the personalities of the different tribes. We have enclosed a picture of the stones in this reading. Today those stones remind us there is a vast array of people within the church and we are called to serve them all. We are not the ones who decide who should be accepted and who shouldn’t. Everyone is welcome in the house of the Lord.
Also within the breastplate of the High Priest was the Urim and Thummim, sometimes referred to as “lights and perfections”. The High Priest used these to determine the will of God for His people. Exactly what these stones were is subject to debate. Many believe there were two stones, one black and one white. They were carried in a leather pouch and when a decision needed to be made, the priest would draw one out after praying to God for guidance. Some believe this casting of lots meant the priest asked yes and no questions and the stone drawn out of the pouch gave the answers to those questions. We may look at this practice as gambling but in ancient days this was a common practice, and not just among God’s people. The practice seems to have mostly died our shortly after King David’s reign.
In scripture the wearing of garments is a picture of the character and life of a believer. We are to lay aside the filthy garments of the old life and wear the beautiful garments of grace provided by the Lord. Jesus has taken away our old dirty rags and given us robes of righteousness. He purchased them for us on the cross, with His shed blood.
There is one very peculiar thing about the ordination ceremony for Aaron. Not only did Moses sprinkle blood on the altar and upon Aaron and his sons, along with the anointing oil. Each man was marked with some of the blood on the right ear lobe, the right thumb, and the right big toe. This was a reminder to them that they were to listen to God’s Word, do God’s work and walk in God’s way. The blood speaks of sacrifice, so the priests became “living sacrifices” in the service of the Lord. We see Living Sacrifices spoken of again in the Book of Romans, chapter 12. We too are called to be living sacrifices to the Lord…without the blood on ear lobes, thumbs, and toes!
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W