The Reading: Exodus 30:17-21
“make a laver of bronze … for washing” (v.18) RSV
Three items lay within the Holy Place: the Laver, the Table and the Lampstand. This week we pause to consider the Laver or Sea. This was a vast dish that was full of water. Its purpose was for cleansing and purification. Whenever we approach God we need to do so “with clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4)
This idea is taken up by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount when he tells his disciples that it is “the pure in heart” who will see God (Matthew 5:8). The outward washing can only at best be a sign of the more important inward cleansing. In the end all outward rituals are only outward, but God looks on the heart. However, doing things outwardly can help us achieve things inwardly. Ablutions are one of those activities.
This theme is taken up in the letter to the Hebrews: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).
Once again Peter reminds us that water by itself cannot cleanse us inwardly: “Baptism, which corresponds to this (Noah and the Ark), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience …” (1 Peter 3:21).
Jesus enacted the ritual of ablution with water during the Last Supper when he took a towel and washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:12-17). They did not need a complete bath (for baptism achieved that!), but they needed daily cleansing from the sins and toil of the day.
The Laver in the Tabernacle was the only source of water for the cleansing process. It enabled people to be purified and so able to enter in the holy presence of their God. We too want to be able to draw close and be safe in his presence.
Father, I am not worthy to enter into your presence, but say the word only and I shall be cleansed. Wash me thoroughly with your word. Amen.
1 Read the Psalmists prayer for cleansing.
2 How big were Solomon’s lavers and of what capacity?
1 Kings 7:38-39 (Bath = 22 litres) (Cubit = 45 cm)