Uncle Zac's Special Day by James Archer
This is a monologue about the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Zachariah as reported in Luke 1. It sets the appearance in an everyday context and reminds us that few people at the time knew as much about it as we do from the gospel narrative. The narrator is Eleazar, a priest who is now in his fifties.
I’ve been a priest for twenty-five years, serving the Lord day by day and longing for the time when God will come and rescue his people as he promised long ago through the prophets. How long, o Lord, how long?
It’s easy as a priest to get so absorbed by the rituals that you forget to worship the God who gave them to Moses at the time of the Exodus. But I’ve never found that a problem thanks to what happened one day – a very special day when I was training to be a priest. Let me tell you about it.
There was one particular priest who took us trainees under his wing, who never tired of talking about God’s promises and explaining the symbolism behind the rituals. He didn’t have any children and was getting on a bit, so he poured out his hopes and his prayers on us instead. So we were all thrilled for Uncle Zac when he was chosen, by lot, to go into the sanctuary to burn incense before the Lord. Everyone dreams of being chosen once before he retires, and this was probably Uncle Zac’s last chance.
We gathered round him and went through all the procedures – the stripping of his everyday clothes, the ritual cleansing with water, the dressing in sacred garments, the sacrifice for unintentional sins, and finally the cord around his ankle so that we could pull him out if he had a heart attack in there. Then the high priest consecrated him and gave him the censer. We watched him intently as he walked slowly up the aisle and slipped through the gap between the curtains.
Lord God of Hosts, creator of the Universe, remember your covenant to Abraham, to Moses, to David and Solomon. Fill your house with your presence; visit and redeem your people.
We waited for him to re-appear – it normally takes about two minutes. Surely we’d been waiting longer than that! My eyes were fixed on the curtains – why on earth was he taking so long? I glanced at the others – they too were getting restless. It seemed like an age, though it can’t have been more than five minutes. The high priest was just going forward to investigate when the curtains parted and there was Uncle Zac.
I knew immediately that something had happened. He had gone through the curtains looking confident and serene; he came out bewildered and hesitant, shaking like a leaf and looking around as if he’d seen a ghost. Samuel and I stepped forward and helped him down the steps and back to his seat. Everyone was staring at him. He pointed to the heavens, then bowed down and looked up. It was obvious that he’d seen some sort of vision and was trying to tell us about it, but he couldn’t speak.
When the ceremony was over, we all went over to talk to him. Someone brought a tablet so that he could write. We learned that the Archangel Gabriel had appeared with a message from God – Uncle Zac hadn’t believed him and had been struck dumb as a punishment. And what was the message? “Be sure of this,” Uncle Zac wrote, “the Lord has visited and redeemed his people.”
A few weeks later, it was the end of Uncle Zac’s tour of duty, and he went back to his village. He still couldn’t speak, but there was an inner peace about him that hadn’t been there before. We formed a circle around him and he blessed us – without a word of course. It was like when Moses blessed the twelve tribes before he died. We hugged him and off he went. I never heard from him again.
What was it all about? I don’t know. But surely God spoke to him as he did to the prophets of old. I’ve never forgotten it. And each day, as I go through the rituals prescribed by Moses, as I call on the name of the Lord our God, I wonder – will be appear today to me as he did that day in the temple to Uncle Zac? How long, o Lord, how long?
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