When was the last time you used “eight days” to signify something new coming up? I can’t remember the last time I did that. When I talk about things happening in the future, I might say “next week” or “in one week.” I rarely say “in eight days.” But according to Luke and Leviticus, a baby boy who is Jewish is to be circumcised eight days after birth. So why the number eight?
In the Bible, the number seven represents the idea of wholeness. When God created the earth, it took God six days and God rested on the seventh. The entire creation event took seven days to complete; seven days to be whole. In Leviticus 12, a woman remains ritually unclean for seven days after giving birth. The idea of being ritually unclean is not an easy concept for Christians to understand. We sometimes say being unclean comes from the Israelites lack of medical knowledge and access to modern hygiene (like indoor plumbing). But ritual uncleanness was deeper than that. The Israelites had a sense that certain experiences changed us, making it difficult to approach the holy and perfect God. By following certain rituals, we are made clean, and our ability to approach God is reaffirmed. When a woman gave birth to a baby boy, she’s “unclean” for seven days. It takes time for her to be made whole again. And then, once she’s whole, her son is circumcised on the eighth day.
As Christians, ritual impurity when it comes to childbirth is something we do not teach. But there is something compelling about the symbol of the eighth day. The eighth day is the day after something is made whole and complete. The eighth day symbolizes something new; a new cycle; a new creation. At the end of a week, a new opportunity arises. As Christians, this is who Jesus is. Jesus is a new creation. And as followers of Christ, we are more than just individuals. We are part of Christ himself. We are living in his eighth day. So, in this time of something new, what is God calling us to do?
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 1/01/2017.