At CCC we reached the end of a little series in Leviticus yesterday with a preach through chapter 19 - one of those chapters which is usefully titled in the NIV "various laws". To be fair to the editors of the NIV, various laws is what it is: no particular unifying theme, no obvious structure, except that the whole of the chapter stands under the heading in verse 2: "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy."
This is, if you like, the second movement in Leviticus. The first movement is all to do with priests and sacrifices. God is holy - implacably opposed to sin and corruption, irreversibly committed to himself and his goodness. The people of Israel are unholy. So that the holy God and the unholy people can live together, particular individuals are claimed by God and made holy, and the tabernacle with its sacrificial apparatus is made holy, so that holy offerings can be made and sin atoned for. Day after day, and especially year after year on the annual Day of Atonement, the unholiness of the people is dealt with, so that they can keep company with the holy God.
The second movement picks up the holiness language and runs in a seemingly completely different direction with it. The question is no longer 'how can the unholy people live with a holy God?' - and it's hugely important to notice that shift. We're now talking about a different question, something along the lines of 'what will this people be like if they are living with a holy God?' The direction of travel changes. Before, we were standing with the unholy people, looking in to the centre of the camp where the tabernacle stands, and asking how we could get there; how can the unholy approach the holy? Now we stand in the tabernacle, and look out at the unholy people, and ask how they (we!) will have to change, since we are keeping company with this holy God. Before the issue was the corruption of the people, which constantly threatened their relationship with God, and which was dealt with by sacrifice. Now, the issue is the holiness of God, which not only threatens but overcomes the sinfulness of the people, claiming them in their whole lives for God. The 'various laws' of Leviticus 19 represent the holiness of the LORD flowing out of the tabernacle and into the worship, relationships, society, work, and world of Israel.
Like Israel, we Christians are constant sinners; unholy to the core. Whenever we remember that, we are driven back to the heart of our faith: God the Son, Jesus Christ, offering himself as the one sacrifice, made once and for all, to take away our sin. But also like Israel, we are claimed by God, claimed for holiness - claimed with greater effect, if you like, than Israel ever was, through the out-poured Holy Spirit. In all of life, we belong to him, stand on his side. These two things are always true of us: totally sinful (but forgiven!), totally holy (but failing!).
When we gather around word and sacrament, like Israel camped around the tabernacle, we look to the God who, in the gospel, has answered the problem of our sin by atonement, and has given his Holy Spirit so that we might ourselves be holy. We enjoy holy time, reminded of forgiveness and sanctification, living those things in our worship. And then the gathering disperses, and we go out to live out the 'various laws', the concrete requirements of God (no doubt somewhat different for us than they were for Levitical Israel) which shape our daily lives in accordance with the gospel we heard on Sunday. This is a requirement: be holy! It is also a gift. This is what it looks like to be privileged to keep company with the holy God. He works holiness in us.