William Propp, reflecting on our first reading: “The Priestly Writer continually wrestles with a paradox so excruciating it verges on the comic. Israel and Yahweh crave nearness, yet can scarcely tolerate one another” (The Anchor Yale Bible). So here the description of the high priest’s clothing is punctuated with unnerving explanations: “so that he may not die… take upon himself any guilt incurred in the holy offering that the Israelites consecrate.”
How might we read the text? The New Testament sets the framework. Jesus is our High Priest (Hebrews, e.g., 2:17), echoed in the BCP’s prelude to confession in the Penitential Orders, (e.g., p.352) and the prayer before receiving communion (p.834). Christians, corporately (e.g., Eph 2:21) and individually (e.g., 1 Cor 6:18-20) are the Temple, echoed in this Collect:
“Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen” (BCP p.230)
So, in the New Testament the Church is a dangerous place, whether in Jerusalem (Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-11) or Corinth (“many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” in 1 Cor 11:27-30), both occurring at the intersection of issues of money and status. “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name” (Exod 20:7): where is the danger greater than in the Church?
So caution is important. Ditto clothing. Not the sanctuary garments for the ordained: after Jesus performed his supreme high priestly act stripped naked such garments are clearly in the “things indifferent” (adiaphora) category. But, picking up on Colossians’ references to stripping off and clothing oneself in yesterday’s readings (Col 3:9-12), we might wonder whether the proper clothing for Aaron and sons (Exod 28:41) and for ourselves (Rom 13:14; Eph 4:24; military: Rom 13:12 Eph 6:11-17 1Th 5:8) are analogous.
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14). Even (especially?) in this season of COVID 19, clothing is important.