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leviticus for lent – simon mcleay

I’m about to start the year as a preacher.  I’ve been thinking and praying and I’ve chosen a challenge.  I’m planning to preach “An idiot’s guide to Leviticus”.  I’ve never really studied Leviticus, but I feel drawn to the third book of the Torah this year.  I have been intrigued to discover that in earlier times it was the first book of the Torah that Jewish children were introduced to.  I’ve been trying to read about the book over summer, to try and discover the book as a whole before I focus on the messages.  I thought in this article I’d sketch out my plan perhaps to inspire or encourage you.

Easter is really early this year, so Lent is Leviticus!  I think Leviticus is going to open up the cross in a fresh way to us, an ancient and fresh way.  I was quite struck by William Willimon last year, when he talked about letting the scripture be a little more strange and foreign.  It seems to me he was warning me against domesticating the scriptures to my worldview.  I like to preach application, but I am approaching Leviticus wanting it to speak its story first.  The book seems to be concerned about things such as ritual purity and a type of Holiness that is very ‘other’.  I haven’t planned the whole year yet, but I think Hebrews is beckoning as a follow up.

My plan is to take 6 weeks in Leviticus, not to do the first 6 chapters, but to overview the book over six weeks, taking a different pericope each week.  I’m planning a message on sacrifice first, we will look at priesthood (with the coming of Jesus in mind), at purity and of course the Day of Atonement.  I’m still trying to get a feel for the whole book before I decide the exact chapters and verses to preach.  I’ve been preaching for 20 years but I’ve never approached a book in quite this way before.  I guess I want to achieve 3 things.  I want to honour the ‘otherness’ of this book and see for myself how this third book of the torah informs our Christian faith.  I want to give my people an introduction to Leviticus that encourages them to read it for themselves (over lent) with some insights that might allow them to feel more familiar with the content of the book.  After all Leviticus is usually the book that new Christians get stuck at.  And I trust that the Holy Spirit is going to say something to my people about their lives today from this book.  I suspect that’s something about holiness and meeting God in worship, but I’m waiting to see.

Practically I’m going to preach the six messages myself to make sure it holds together.  I’m also thinking about the visual aspects.  Will we set up an altar in the church somewhere to help people visualise the sacrifices?  Maybe we (Low church folk) will delineate the platform in such a way as to draw some real distinctions between outside, inside, sanctuary and altar.  Then we can collapse these divisions on Good Friday.

I’m motivated by metaphor and so I’m also keen to explore the idea of ‘bio-hazard’ alongside purity.  I’m aware that ancient Israel did not have a modern medical outlook, but I suspect that the films about outbreaks and contagions could give us an emotive response to the cost of contagion and the raw danger of sin and impurity.  Again I can imagine a black death excursus.   I’m excited about visiting Leviticus this lent.

If you want to follow the series it should appear on in lent.


  1. Daniel Ezra Naveen says:

    It is exiting to hear about the “otherness” of Leviticus. I love to follow the series please keep me updated.

  2. Simon McLeay says:

    Sure, I’ve just finished the first message, I’ll make sure the notes are posted on our website. I’ve read some interesting commentary, those from a few years ago launch in with a strongly modernist worldview – and try to make sense of Leviticus from a medical and food safety point of view. I think we have to read Leviticus in it’s own categories first, then we can jump to our connections – David and his desire not to offer something that cost him nothing 2 sam 24.24 and of course living sacrifices in Romans.

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