back to top

To Whom Do We Point?

In the Jewish synagogue, the Torah (which also makes up the first five books of the Christian Old Testament) is written on scrolls of parchment and stored in the Ark, usually an inset in that synagogue wall which faces Jerusalem.  During Shabbat and other special occasions of worship, the Torah scrolls are removed from the Ark.  The rabbi reads or the cantor chants from the Torah in a way analogous to the Sunday readings in Christian churches, and similarly to the way a Catholic or Episcopal priest reads from the missal during Holy Communion.

Parchment is derived from animal skin, and as such it does not absorb ink.  Were the rabbi’s assistant to point to the words on the Torah scroll with a finger, oil would smudge the words, marring the sacred text.  Consequently, in Jewish worship a pointer is used, called the yad.

At a Bar Mitzvah, the young man coming of age is given the privilege of reading from the Torah scroll.  Recently, a St. John’s parishioner attended the Bar Mitzvah of her grandson in Washington, D.C., and she was struck by the reverent and respectful way the yad was used to point to the Torah text.  She subsequently purchased a yad and presented it to St. John’s for our own use during Holy Eucharist.

Our new yad is a beautiful and ornate thing.  It is silver, and its detail is striking.  The tip of the yad is shaped like a human hand, and it even includes lines and creases on the palm. Were one not to know the yad’s purpose, it could easily stand alone as a work of craftsmanship and art.

But the yad does have a purpose, which is to point beyond itself.  In our worship, the yad draws the eyes of the priest to the words of God’s great love and sacrifice for humankind, and those words themselves draw the soul into communion with that very God, changing us from mere creatures into adopted children.

If you’ll permit the simile, God calls us to be like the yad.  Too often in our culture, there is a preoccupation with self, a tacit belief that life’s central point is self-affirmation.  We believe that our gifts, our accomplishments, and our abundance ought to point back to ourselves as indicators of our value and worth.  But this is not the message of Holy Scripture, and it does not define the life of faith.  Our lives are blessed so that we may be a blessing.  We are gifted so that we can point back to the salvation story of God’s overwhelming love and be drawn into that love in our relationships with God and with his children.

That is the very purpose of our lives.  We are to point to the One who “to the poor proclaimed the good news of salvation; to prisoners, freedom; to the sorrowful, joy,” the One who “rising from the grave, destroyed death, and made the whole creation new.”

Reverend Barkley Thompson is the senior pastor at St. John’s Episcopal Church. During the summer, St. John’s gathers for Sunday worship at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., and 5 p.m.

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Related Articles