Last week, First United Methodist Church set up a model tabernacle similar to the one you would find with the Israelites were wandering in the desert. I took the morning off from work to visit it with my family and I was glad that I did. Turns out Derek Leman, a rabbi from Atlanta, was also there and gave us a personal tour of the tabernacle. When we got to the altar, Derek pointed out something that I never had really thought about: the smell of the altar.
If you are like me reader, then you probably thought the altar must of smelt like roasted meat. You know, mouth watering steak and the like. But that was far from the truth. The smell of blood & death permeated the air around the altar, as they slaughtered one animal after another. During the sacrifice a priest would catch the blood in a bowl and afterwards would splatter it upon the sides of the altar. The sacrifice was a grave reminder that sin by its very nature was death & there wasn’t anything good about it.
The analogy was driven home this weekend when my garage filled with the smell of death. Horrid, vomit-inducing death smell. We thought an animal had burrowed itself behind one of the many boxes lined along the wall and died, leaving its stench behind. It was so bad, that I only lasted about 2 minutes when I went looking for the carcass the first time. I had to come in and let the nausea pass before I built up enough courage to go back in there. Eventually I had opened every box and moved them all from the walls. Nothing. I found nothing.
I kept searching, because it was unmistakably there. But where? I even thought to climb up in the attic to take a look around. The truth is, the smell lingered around our stand up freezer. As a last resort, I moved it from the wall, stuck my head down below the coils, searching to see if something had gotten caught. I almost past out. Blood was dripping from the inside and that horrible stench of death assaulted my nose & lungs. The freezer had stopped working and the packaged meat, thawed draining the bloody juices down the backside.
It was then and there on my knees watching the blood drip that the imagery of the tabernacle hit me. Every time I sin, that is the stench that fills God’s nostrils.
I don’t want to leave on that note though. There was something else that I noticed on the tabernacle tour. In the Holy Place, there was a sensor filled with incense. It was a sweet, fragrant and welcomed smell juxtaposed against the smell of death the surrounded the sacrificial altar. Derek also mentioned that it was forbidden to burn this combination of incense outside the Holy Place. What a beautiful reminder of our prayers? Where sin is death, forgiveness is life. And those prayers are sweet to Him. Those prayers are also reserved for Him alone.