When [the priests] go out among the people in the outer courtyard, they must take off the clothes that they wore as they served. They must leave their clothes in the side rooms of the holy place and put on other clothes so that they do not transfer the holiness from their clothes to the people. (Ezekiel 44:19)
This seems in direct contradiction to everything I ever thought about holy clothes. As I typed that verse for you, I was thinking about other verses earlier in the Old Testament, before the Temple at all. I was thinking of the Tabernacle and the special garments used by priests entering the Holy of Holies. There was never instruction for a priest coming out of that holy place. And so I guess I always assumed the holy clothes were set aside to be forever ceremonially clean clothes, honorable enough to enter the presence of the Lord. Never tarnished. Never torn.
Maybe that was the case and by the time of Ezekiel, some things had changed. Maybe by Ezekiel, we are entering a turning point in God's story and in His relationship with His people. It's hard to know, and I don't have the time in my schedule right now to exegese it, but I'll mark that one for later because now, I'm asking.
But I always thought the clothes were what made a man presentable to God, what made Him worthy of serving in the holiest place. It was part of the ritual; I get that. I just thought it was...part of the ritual. Then I read a passage like this one in Ezekiel, and I start to think about other things. Like holiness.
It seems kind of stingy of God, don't you think, to hoard His holiness? We live in a culture that likes to say God is gracious and generous and all-giving, that He's giving to you even when you don't know He's giving and don't recognize Him as the giver. We talk about a God who we envision sprinkling down holy blessings out of His mighty right hand like confetti at the ticker-tape parade. Graces, graces, graces for all! And it's really hard to reconcile our post-modern, 21st Century view of God with a passage like this one where He doesn't want His people - His general, not-set-aside, average-worshiper people - to have His holiness.
That's kind of what we want from Him. More than His love. More than His grace. More than His mercy. We want His holiness to rub off on us so that maybe, just maybe, there might be something good about us. Something redeeming, whether or not we are redeemed.
Which is the problem and also the point. There's certainly a Biblical precedent for the giving God, the God who shows up and offers something awesome that is perfectly needed in an imperfect moment. He is the God who knit fig leaves for Adam and Eve to cover their shame. He is the God who rained manna on a struggling, wayward nation. He is the God who walked into the fire to bring His son Daniel out. And He is the God who came in the flesh of a man to bring the world back to Him. We know God comes.
But look at these things. Look at what the people gain when God is present - comfort, shelter, food, water, sustenance, presence, even grace. Not a one ever gained holiness being visited by the Lord.
No, to get holiness, you have to do the visiting.
You don't obtain holiness because God endows you with holiness. Holiness comes through bloodied knees and dirt-covered hands as you crawl your way toward Him. It comes when you take yourself through this place and out of this place with one goal in mind: the very throne of God. It comes when you enter the Holy of Holies, which isn't just a room any more but a presence. Holiness comes in the presence of God - your presence before God, not His before you.
Which is why I think He told Ezekiel not to let the priests wear the holy clothes into the courtyard. He didn't want anyone getting a cheap imitation. He didn't want His holiness - and the priests, by nature of being in His presence, would have been covered in holiness - to rub off on someone who had not and likely would not make the journey. Why go to the God when from a far-off, distant place, He gives you everything you could ever want anyway...without the entanglement of an actual relationship? He wouldn't get to be God any more, and I think that would break His heart.
Of course, the rules were different back then. It wasn't like these average joes could line up and wait for admittance to the holiest place. There wasn't a sign-up or even a sign-in sheet; not just anybody could come into the presence of God. But by the power of His presence come into ours, this is not "back then." This is now, and the presence of God is here and open for all who would come.
I really want more holy in my life. Sometimes, I lie awake at night wondering if there's anything good in me, anything holy at all. Sometimes, I wish God would just drop in and sprinkle me with holy while I sleep so I could wake up a better woman than I was today or yesterday or the twenty-eight years before. But I read a passage like Ezekiel 44:19 and I realize I don't want a holiness that just rubs off. Who knows when it might rub off of me? What I want is a holiness that is lasting, that comes from the incredible presence of God at whose feet I fall, bloodied knees and dirty hands and thirsty heart aching for holiness. Aching for one ounce of redemption, which only comes by being redeemed. Hungry for the holy....
And it's there, but it's not just going to happen. I have to go get it. I have to go stand in the presence of God. In His presence, I can't help but be covered by it.
But I'm still not sure how holy I'll ever feel.