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6. Mornings and Evenings

Now this is what you shall offer upon the altar: two lambs a year old day by day continually. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer in the evening; and with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a libation. And the other lamb you shall offer in the evening, and shall offer with it a cereal offering and its libation, as in the morning, for a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the LORD.

Exodus 29:38-41

If we look at Israel's ceremonies merely as part of history, they may seem like the ceremonies of a very external people, performed with a gross, if not altogether mistaken idea of the God they worshipped, and with an equally obscure idea of worship. Seen in this way, the solemn slaughter and burning of two lambs a day seem simply the remains of the ancient history of a barbarous age.

But what, then, is the element of vitality which has preserved such a detailed record of these sacrifices to the present day? Why are ceremonies like these found mingled with the high ethical teachings, psalms, and prophecies that have been the foundation of the most sensitive social ethics, high religion, and hope for so many generations? And why is it that these ceremonies, related in such minute detail, seem so plainly to be commanded by God as essential for Israel? It seems impossible today, at least, to take them as essential to a relationship with God.

The approach we have been taking sees the Bible as, indeed, a revelation from God, partly clear and partly obscure, as people have been able to receive it. It sees the symbols in the Bible as speaking throughout, with power, of the most central elements in the religious life, whether to ancient or to modern men and women. And these morning and evening sacrifices of the lambs, offered for Israel day by day, deal now, as they have always in the past, with the ups and downs and changes, the timing of the inner life.

The working day outdoors in Israel's climate is dominated by two twilights: the half light before the heat of the sun strikes the land with fire and energy, an almost savage challenge to getting work accomplished in the face of penetrating power, and the half light of evening, the cool of the day, when breath can again be drawn freely, and a little space of rest and peace is given before the deep blue of the night is wholly present. Evenings and mornings here speak more vividly than in the temperate zones of beginnings and ends, of new life and completion, of creation.

Each morning and each evening has its own sacrifice of a lamb, fine flour and oil, and wine. We have seen that animals symbolize feelings, and that meat and bread offerings are to be either burnt or eaten. Animals burnt wholly on the altar are our awareness that good affections are wholly from God, and that these affections or feelings can be the means of our knowing our unity, our communion, with God. Animals burnt outside the camp as sin offerings symbolize thorough removal from the heart of feelings and game patterns that are destructive. And animals eaten in feasts before the Lord symbolize the nourishing of the mind by God and bringing God's life to practical use in this world. These three elements together picture three essential aspects of the fullness of worship: 1) removing evil, 2) receiving goodness and truth from God, and 3) living in a way that brings that inmost Presence of goodness and truth to concrete reality and use.

The morning and evening sacrifices ask for "two lambs, sons of a year, day by day." The lamb is, of course, a symbol of gentleness and innocence. It is affectionate and playful, with no apparent desire to do hurt, and no means of attack. It follows its mother, and then its shepherd. It loves play, it loves food and drink, but it will leave everything at its shepherd's call. This yearling lamb is not a symbol of mere new born want of desire to do wrong, or negative, naive innocence as of something without life, but positive, active innocence. I he poetry of Isaiah sees the lamb together with the kid, the calf, the cow, and the little child, living in peace with their opposites: the wolf, the leopard, the lion, and the poisonous snake, in that final time of peace itself when the Spirit of the Lord shall reign and the earth be "full of knowledge of the LORD as waters cover the sea" (Isa. 11:6-9).

To bring the lamb to the altar, and to commit it wholly to the flame, is to come to the Lord with positive, lively innocence, knowing it to be the Lord's gift, and seeing in it the sacred fire of Divine Love. This is to love the Lord "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deut. 6:5). This is to trust, and to come near to, the Divine.

We have mentioned other elements in the worship of sacrifice besides this inmost one, namely, purification from destructive patterns, and bringing the Presence to use in the world. We cannot always think directly of the Lord. We come down from states of elevation, or out from the experience of the inmost, to do the work of life, and set our mind to attend directly to what needs doing. But at the beginning of the work, while it is still in contemplation, we can, in full view of it, come interiorly to the Lord with the offering of a lamb. And when the work is done, we can return to the Lord with a lamb, acknowledging that what is good is from God. And if this is done day by day, that is, in every state of our lives, good from the Lord can fill our work with living love. Then we will not defile it by trying to make it bolster up dead patterns of our own that struggle so desperately to manipulate and work against the underlying current of life. Life is full of beginnings and endings, and if these be sanctified by the Lord, the whole of life receives a holy power.

Beginnings and endings are different, however, and our coming to the Presence is a different coming from one perspective or the other. Mornings are the inner person, open to his or her real center within, and evenings the external person, coming back from all the struggle, the successes, and the pains. Both need to be hallowed in God's Presence.

Mornings are easier. Before beginning the work or assuming the responsibility there is a newness, a hopefulness combined with uncertainty, a fear that has a positive potential. The vision of all we hope for is still clean; the dangers, the unpredictable elements, are threatening, often in proportion to the power of that vision.

In the experience of going to a workshop, for example, either to lead it or to take part, there is always some anxiety involved, and it is easy to turn to the Lord for help. The decision to give a dinner or a party may begin with purely pleasant feelings of anticipation, but once the invitations are accepted and all must be organized and ready for that actual moment, tension is present.

Hut having gone to the workshop or given the party, and having had the success or the peak experience, the need for help is less clear. We may know our duty, to acknowledge thankfully that the Lord has blessed us, and that the kingdom, the power, and the glory are God's. But it was our success, after all, and we enjoyed it. There were flaws, granted. It did not come off with all the glory of our dream. But we did it, we made it through, and we deserve to feel good about ourselves.

That second lamb of innocence and inmost centering after the successful event sometimes seems harder to find. The success has become my success. And if I set out to lead another workshop or give another party, I now have the negative fear that it may not be as good as the last one, that I may not have as great a success again, and I want to guarantee it by trying the same methods another time. Or if I shared the peak experience, it is now over; I have a similar negative fear of loss of a possession. And where, in this obscurity of evening is that second lamb?

The key to the problem is in the word "possession." I he second lamb is sacrificed "between the evenings," the two evenings. We have mentioned the two twilights in each day, two times of half light and obscurity. Between the evenings is between the evening and the morning dusk, normally soon after sunset (Deut. 16:6), but in any case before the light of dawn. The two evenings emphasize the light to come, the fact that all obscurities of night are part of the daily change of light and dark that make dawn possible.

The fear of loss keeps saying, "Protect the possession. Don't let it change. Go back to recapture what you had." But nothing, of course, could be more futile or more frustrating. What "between the evenings" suggests is the opposite, the awareness that all beginnings, accomplishments, and endings are part of a living process, that endings are an inevitable part of leading to what is new, and that the process is good. In Hebrew and in Judaism evening begins the new day. Darkness was there upon the face of the abyss when God said, "Let there be light." Evenings precede mornings in the poetry of the six days of creation. The awareness of God's creation at work in every evening at the beginning of each new day, is an awareness which suggests that second lamb of thanks to God for life itself, the ground of all our work, our intention, and our feeling good.

No living thing can exist for long without real change. Morning and evening awareness of God, day by day, is the bringing of our changes of state to the Lord, seeing the Lord's presence in the changes. It is a relief to read in Swedenborg's treatment of this commandment that angels as well as people in this world are expected to have real ups and downs and changes of state in their growth process. I imagine they are more aware than we are here of a stability underlying the change. But creation is a continuing and a trustworthy life process for us here too. If every morning and evening, every beginning, end, and new beginning, is brought to the altar to be given wholly to the Lord, the whole of life is sanctified and can be trusted, whatever the immediate success or failure.

With the lamb was offered flour and oil and wine. These three, "the grain, the wine, and the oil," are the good gifts of the earth as described by the prophets, as well as by poets who lived in the land of Canaan long before Israel (Hos. 2:2; Joel 1:10). Grain is the fruit coming from the goodness of the earth, the truth of good that gives the good distinctive, existing form. Pure olive oil is good experienced as mercy which soothes, heals, destroys friction, lends taste and consistency to food, or burns with a bright, warm flame; it is a goodness that comforts and heals the spirit.

Fine flour and oil together, then, represent loving thought put into action, permeated and hallowed by a perception of the Lord's goodness to all. They were part of all bread offerings. For morning and evening, the third element, the wine, is added, poured out upon the altar. Wine is water drawn up from the earth by the vine, and as the leaves of the vine sport in the air and sunlight, the water is filled with sweetness and spirit, and presented to us in the beauty of clusters of grapes. Water, from its cleansing and life-giving powers, is truth in active, actual form which distinguishes between worthless and good, and teaches what is right. The vine may be any human mind which loves to learn such truth, to see it in relation to the Lord's love and life, and to present it to others full of sweetness and spirit. For Christians, Jesus, "the true vine," so lived the truth that he presented it to us filled with his own life. The elements of communion, then, the bread of grain and oil, and the wine, are to be with us, joined with the innocence of the lamb, in every beginning and ending of our life. It is not just a symbolic lamb alone. It is the wholeness of a meal that is symbolized, of eating the food of life, but at these moments offered wholly to the Lord.

The bread for this offering on the altar, like the bread of Presence on the table, was to contain no leaven and no honey. Leaven is the beginning of fermentation or corruption, the thought of self that can make a good action inflated and insincere, and honey a merely natural pleasure unconnected to its spiritual base. Leaven and honey are both good. We are called to be leaven as well as salt, to raise as well as to give savor to the lump. The land "flowing with milk and honey" is our promised land of Canaan with its abundance of delight. When we do what we need to do, in the time between the beginnings and the ends, there must be thought of self. Natural elation and all kinds of natural highs and sensual pleasure are good gifts to be enjoyed, not disdained. There are times when it is right to feel good about ourselves and to focus on just that. The question is not whether this is good or bad, but rather one of timing. Wine, of course, is fermented. Truth is processed, but the love of this sacrifice is a spontaneous gift. Devotion to the Lord which does not lead out there to the world of the senses, where lives are lived and actions are done and enjoyed, is incomplete. But actions done out there without a live connection with that inmost space which can give all, totally, to God, are nothing.

We are asked to be aware of timing, of those moments of morning and evening, of beginning and ending. We are asked at these times to turn to that most sacred inmost and offer it totally, with no thought of self, to the fire. And as we do this, the fire of God's love gives life, and an "odor of rest" or pleasantness, a perception of peace, is the sign of God's communion with us, and hallows all the rest.

Relive in your mind, visualizing, and letting the feelings be involved, one piece of work you did, or one thing you decided to go to.

Relive the beginning. What were your hopes? What brought you to that moment when you knew you would do it or go to it? What feelings are you experiencing now about this?

Relive the actual experience. What happened? What was successful? What was painful? What feelings are you experiencing now?

Relive the ending. What was it? Was it a success or a failure or a high, a peak experience of yours? Are you afraid of losing it? Is it something you want to go back and recapture another time? Or was it not an ending at all? Was it just a jumble, a loose end dropped somewhere, or thrown into some corner, that needs to be picked up and seen before its ending can take place? Do you need right now to find that second lamb and offer it to the Lord, and bring your inner work to its completion? What feelings are you experiencing now?

Read again the Lord's Word in Exodus 29:38-41.

Now this is what you shall offer upon the altar: two lambs a year old day by day continually. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer in the evening; and with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a libation. And the other lamb you shall offer in the evening, and shall offer with it a cereal offering and its libation, as in the morning, for a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the LORD.

Bring to the Lord the beginning you have just relived, and give it, totally, to the Lord, holding nothing back.

Bring to the Lord the ending you have just relived or just experienced, and give it, totally, to the Lord, holding nothing back.

Lord, we get so often lost, and so afraid, and hurt. Bring us back to you. Tell us again your Love for us, as goodness and as mercy to us and to all people. Help us to come to you with the beginnings and with the endings of our lives. Help us to see them in your Presence. Help us to give them, totally, to you.

Bless us, Lord. Amen.

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