“Our Great High Priest”
23rd Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 25B) - October 28, 2018
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but Jesus holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
"Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!" (Hymn #460, Verses 3-4)
3 Alleluia! bread of Heaven,
Thou on earth our food, our stay!
Alleluia! here the sinful
flee to thee from day to day:
Intercessor, friend of sinners,
earth’s Redeemer, plead for me,
where the songs of all the sinless
sweep across the crystal sea.
4 Alleluia! King eternal,
thee the Lord of lords we own:
Alleluia! born of Mary,
earth thy footstool, heaven thy throne:
thou within the veil hast entered,
robed in flesh, our great High Priest:
thou on earth both Priest and Victim
in the eucharistic feast.
The lesson from the Letter to the Hebrews and the hymn “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!” both reflect on the meaning of priesthood. So today we reflect on the great high priesthood of Jesus and how it relates to the flawed priesthood of human beings like me.
Professor Jennifer Kaalund explains, “Historically, the role of a priest, simply put, was to bring offerings and offer sacrifices” (“Commentary”). In the Old Testament times, priests were intercessors, who brought the prayers of the people before God, whether these are verbal prayers or tangible offerings (e.g. grain, wine, fruit, oil, animals, money, etc.).
We carry lots of these traits into “New Testament” priesthood in the church today. Priests continue to offer sacrifices for the faithful people, through collecting the bread, wine, and other gifts, and praying that God will bless them for us. Priests gather the intercessions, thanksgivings, and confessions of the congregation, and then we say the Eucharistic Prayers for the church.
But my priesthood is different in one key respect from the Old Testament priesthood -- Our High Priest is no ordinary man, a descendent of Aaron appointed for a season; our Great High Priest is God in the flesh: the Lord Jesus Christ, who lives forever. And I don’t really bring new sacrifices before God. I invoke the sacrifice that Jesus made once and for all. We remember Jesus’ death, proclaim his resurrection, and await his coming in glory. All of those things become present spiritual realities for us when we celebrate the Eucharist. Jesus is the true priest, and I’m just the human representative of his ministry among us.
Ordinary priests, like me, need to “offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people.” That’s why I kneel with you when we confess our sins during worship. As a priest of the Church, I have the privilege of declaring God’s forgiveness to you. But I’m also right down on my knees confessing my sins. I’m a sinner just like you. We all need to turn to our great high priest, Jesus the Son of God, who is “holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens”
And the priesthood of ordinary people is temporary. Only Jesus remains forever. You may have heard that the Vestry is in the process of talking with me and the Diocese about whether to call me as Rector of St. Matthew’s. We announced that intention at the A.S.K. Dinner last month, and though nothing is finalized yet, we’re hopeful that we’ll come to an agreement soon. We’re in the discernment process and we’re going to have some time available for the parish to learn more about the process and ask questions. We can talk more in a different forum about the details there, but the question at hand is this: Are we ready to make a long-term commitment to one another? Will St. Matthew’s choose to have me as its priest and will I choose to stay here for the foreseeable future?
All of that is important, but we have to put it in its biblical, theological, and historical context. No priest stays in place forever. We’re all only given a finite period of time to serve God’s people. Even if I were to stay here my entire career, I am mortal, like any other priest out there (except one). Hebrews reminds us that all human priests are “prevented by death from continuing in office; but [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.”
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue likes to say that all of us serve as “interims.” No matter your profession, the best we can do is work faithfully in the short time we have. So whether we’re talking about St. Matthew’s Church or your own job, we want to do our best now to prepare for the future. If we accomplish good things together in this church, it is only by the gift of God and the grace of our true priest Jesus working among us. And no matter how badly I or any priest messes up, we trust in our Great High Priest, Jesus, to make all things right.
Jesus does not come to the altar offering animals, bread, or wine as sacrifices. He offers himself once and for all. In the words of the hymn we sang earlier, Jesus is “both priest and victim in the Eucharistic feast” (“Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!” The Hymnal 1982, #460). Jesus heals the world through his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus is our human priest and our divine Savior. Jesus gives us the new life of grace. He is the perfect one so that we don’t have to live with the pressure of being perfect.
Jesus’ grace is enough for us in the face of the many changes, chances, and anxieties of this life. So whether we’re faced with challenging and influential choices or mundane annoyances, Jesus advocates for us. He is our Intercessor and a constant friend of sinners. He is our Great High Priest, and he will make up for all our sins and deficiencies. Because we trust in Jesus, we pray confidently like St. Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Amen.
Kaalund, Jennifer T. “Commentary on Hebrews 7:23-28.” Working Preacher. Published October 2018. Accessed 27 October 2018. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3808.