Specifically, the Day of Atonement ritual revolves around the notions of boundary-monitoring and expulsion, the very psychological dynamics guiding the disgust response. Disgust monitors the boundary of the body--inside versus outside--and pushes away or expels (e.g., vomiting) contaminating substances.
In the Day of Atonement rituals you see something similar. First, there is the boundary-monitoring symbolized by the boundary of the camp. Next are the acts of expulsion symbolized by the sin-laden goats being taken or forced out of the camp.
To review, there were two goats used in the ritual. One goat for a blood offering and the other as the scapegoat offering. In the scapegoat offering the sins of the people were laid upon the goat which was then expelled from the camp into the wilderness:
Leviticus 16.20-22The other goat, the goat for the sin offering, was killed and its blood and fat used in the Tabernacle rituals. Afterwards the remains of the goat (along with the carcass of a bull that the High Priest used to cleanse himself) were taken outside the camp and burned:
When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.
Leviticus 16.27-28With both goats we see boundary-monitoring and expulsion at work. That which is contaminating, unclean, and polluting are taken outside of the camp. This expulsion and purging leaves the inside of the camp clean and pure. That which is unclean is now exterior, on the outside.
The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up. The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.
As we know the early Christians viewed the crucifixion of Jesus through the lens of the Day of Atonement rituals. This comparison is most clearly seen in the NT book of Hebrews. Just about any Christian can articulate the metaphor: the shed blood of Jesus on the cross is like the Day of Atonement sacrifices cleansing us from sin.
However, what I'd like to point out is how the book of Hebrews ends on a note that radically deconstructs how Christians should view the death of Jesus as a purification ritual. Specifically, the book of Hebrews inverts the directionality of the Day of Atonement ritual. As noted above, the Day of Atonement ritual expels the uncleanliness from the camp leaving the inside pure. That, as I've said, is how the logic of purity works, psychologically speaking. The goal in the Day of Atonement ritual is to be on the inside of the camp where purity resides. Uncleanliness is being found on the outside of the camp.
Hebrews completely undermines all this.
Hebrews 13.11-14Noting the fact that Jesus was crucified outside of the gates of Jerusalem the writer of Hebrews suggests that purification is now found--in a reversal of the Day of Atonement--on the outside of the camp. We don't expel the uncleanliness leaving the inside purified. Rather, we are purified by leaving the camp, going out to where, in the imagination of Leviticus 16, where the wickedness resides. And when we do this we bear the disgrace of Jesus who was, in the words of Isaiah, stricken by God and numbered among the transgressors. Such a reading sits very well with the entire ministry of Jesus who, throughout his life, left the camp to embrace the unclean those who had been expelled into the wildness of Jewish social and religious life. Thus, to be clean in this vision we invert the Day of Atonement: We leave the camp to stand with those who have been excluded.
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
To be sure, I'm not entirely confident that the writer of Hebrews had this exact understanding in mind (though this reading does precisely fit Jesus in the gospels). A less radical reading has "the city" in the final line of the passage above as Babylon. The idea, then, is one similar to what we find in Revelation where the people of God are to "come out" from Babylon. This coming out of Babylon is what sets us apart as holy, purified people. This reading is supported by the final line of the passage above where two cities are contrasted. In Revelation these two cities are Babylon and the New Jerusalem.
But even if we go with this less radical reading we still have something counterintuitive and note-worthy. Specifically, even in the less radical reading purity isn't achieved by an act of expulsion. Well, it sort of is, only we are expelling ourselves by "coming out" of Babylon, leaving the city and joining Jesus outside the camp.
This might, on first blush, sound like a warrant to avoid or withdraw from the sinners of the world. I think that's a misreading. We aren't leaving people behind. We are leaving a city behind--a way of being, a lifestyle, a culture, a value system, a way of doing business. What will be diagnostic here is how when we "come out" we are disgraced, just as Jesus was disgraced. This "coming out" isn't a power play, a refusal to hang out with sinners. To make that move is to throw the entire life of Jesus under the bus. To make that move is to do the exact opposite of what Jesus did. So let's rule that move out right here. No, bearing the disgrace of being "outside the camp" has to be the same sort of disgrace that Jesus bore in his own life and death. It is the disgrace of hanging out with losers. Of being, along with Jesus on the cross, a loser yourself. The disgrace of being outside the camp, to use the words of Robert Capon, is the disgrace of leastness, lastness, littleness and lostness.
This is the disgrace of being outside the camp. The disgrace of being a loser and standing with losers.
But when we go outside the camp to stand with the losers there we find the body and blood of Jesus, the sacrifice that makes us pure, holy and clean.