Standing in the Middle

Scriptures: Psalm 119:9-16, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33

Let us pray:

Open our eyes that we may see our story in your story, O God.  May these words and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

We don’t often talk about Jesus as our high priest.  I would imagine most of us are products of a Reformed Protestant understanding that “we don’t need a mediator because we can talk to God directly.”  The back story of that perspective is a rejection of a traditional Roman Catholic understanding of the Church, and all the power vested in her – i.e. as in the priests – to hear confession, issue penances and pronounce absolution.  We Protestants skip that part and just do a corporate confession on Sunday with a corporate assurance of pardon; which means we just pray to God for forgiveness, and God, in Christ, hears us and forgives us.

No, we don’t often talk about Jesus as our high priest, do we?

“But on closer reflection, priest may be among the most accessible and useful analogies we have of him. … What, really, is a priest? A priest is someone entirely human, just like the rest of us, struggling along like the rest of us, who is also called upon to receive, to bear, and to lift before God the needs that are common to us all. To conceive of Jesus this way locates him squarely in our nature and our world, and sees his work as intimate, connectional, and costly.

To call him not only priest but high priest suggests that in him the role intensifies…. Especially in mind, of course, is the chief task of Israel’s high priest: that in the most terribly sacred space, all alone, he bears to God the most crucial human need. The text envisions Christ as being forever in this mode.”[1]

In the early Jesus movement, there was a sense that Jesus needed to fulfill the role of high priest – not like a Levite priest of the line of Aaron, which, like Roman Catholics before the Reformation, had become corrupt and ineffective.  With Jesus, there is no need of Temple sacrifice, Temple politics, Scribal rules or Pharisaical etiquette; in other words no need for institutional structures of middle ground between the people and God.  Jesus became the sacrifice.  Jesus was also God.  Jesus now stands in the middle, not the Temple, not the Sanhedrin, not the institutional Church.  All have access freely given, grace freely bestowed because of Christ – that is our understanding of atonement.

Does that mean everything is hunky dory?  No.  Jesus prayed “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from my lips, but your will be done, not mine.”  The experience of Jesus, praying in the garden as we will see next week, “resembles that of many others who pray and yet are not kept from pain and even death.”[2]  His tears, his suffering, his prayers represent his very real humanity and his solidarity with all of us.  Our prayers are not often answered the way we want them to be.  However, sometimes our greatest growth of spirit in our life happens through the way of Christ – that is, the way of suffering.

I must admit, this troubles me; who wants to suffer?  Looking at it through another lens may help bear it: Remembering that Jesus is both priest and king, let us also overlay that like a sheet of blueprint, with Jesus also being both Son of Man and Son of God.  In which case, standing in the full authority of the Divine Dynasty, God submits to the limitations of full humanity as Jesus and offers himself as THE sacrifice to replace all sacrifices.  What that teaches us is that God is choosing humility instead of exaltation, submission instead of tyranny, servanthood instead of overlordship.  The act of submitting to John’s baptism in the Jordan River begins Christ’s ministry.

Similarly, when we – or our parents on our behalf – submitted us to baptism, we began our ministry, our journey with Christ into new life.  What an incredible gift!  Jesus and we both begin in the same place: a “visceral experience of the unconditional love of God poured out in water and in Spirit, sealing the new covenant in each heart.”[3]  Viewed this way, the body of Christ still lives with us, among us, and in us.  In turn, we offer ourselves in prayer to Christ and others.

“Whether our offerings to God are loud, unrequited cries or only “sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26), worship is the place where, as we entrust our prayers to this high priest, we recognize him as one whom we have heard pray with all those same deeply human voices. Worship is the place where indeed we see and hear him in each other as we pray.”[4] (Emphasis added)

“Biblical theologian Walter Wink writes that “history belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being.”[5] The high priest … is none other than the one who intercedes for us and with us—the one who believes the future out ahead of us, and who lights the way into it. His approachability, as Tom Long notes, makes it possible for us to “forget the sheer audaciousness … of daring to approach the holy.”[6] As we come to see and to know God in worship, that most elemental experience of Christian community, God helps us to become intercessors ourselves, who believe the future into being.”[7]

In so being, we are also to learn obedience to further our role and abilities as priests.  What does this means?  It means we listen to our lives and struggle to read the meaning of our days, even as Jesus did.  It means we have been given the ability to witness – in whatever our particular set of gifts may be.  In Jesus,

“Here is a priest not lifting a lamb or dove, or bread and wine, or even an atonement for sin. Into the presence of God, this priest offers weeping and screaming in the lifting up of prayers. Understood as a high-priestly act, Jesus is bearing in his person all the loud cries, all the tears and supplications of the people. His passion, in other words, embodies and suffers not only the guilt of the world, but also the grief of the world, human anguish, isolation, longing, misery, and rage, cried out to the heavens. All of this accrues to him, is borne by him and poured painfully out of him. Certainly the prayers, tears, and loud cries are for himself, for his own deliverance. But more deeply, he is a priest, staggering beneath the weeping, groaning supplications of the world….More hauntingly, since the text calls him “priest forever,” we are perhaps to imagine his cries forever echoing through the heavens.

“The text’s vision suggests both consolation and calling. All who have reason for tears and loud cries are addressed—mourners, the war-ravaged, the poor, the terrified, the oppressed, those who are too much alone. Their tears, cries, and clenched silences are gathered into a groaning divine cry, ceaselessly rising, painfully lifting the suffering world toward hope of transformation. The vocation of the church, in large measure, is to hear and to join in that cry.”[8]

As we conclude our journey through Lent this week and anticipate Holy Week, let us deeply consider how we, in our spheres of influence here and beyond this valley, join that cry for which and to which we were called – becoming Christ’s body yet again in our service to the world.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ.  Amen?  May it be so.

[1] Paul Simpson Duke, “Homiletical Perspective, Hebrews 5:5-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor ((Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Martha L. Moore-Keish, “Theological Perspective, Hebrews 5:5-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor ((Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[3] Richard E. Spalding, “Pastoral Perspective, Hebrews 5:5-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor ((Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[4] Ibid.

[5] Walter Wink, The Powers that Be:. Theology for a New Millennium (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 185

[6] Thomas Long, Hebrews, Interpretation series (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1997), 64.

[7] Richard E. Spalding, “Pastoral Perspective, Hebrews 5:5-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor ((Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[8] Paul Simpson Duke, “Homiletical Perspective, Hebrews 5:5-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor ((Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

Questions for Reflection

What are your memorable experiences of faith-focused or Spirit-centered community? What made these experiences so special?  What communities in the Bible stand out for you? What qualities make those particular communities memorable? Where and how do you experience Christian community today? What are you looking for that community might offer at this time in your life?

Household Prayer: Morning

Loving God, you offer the gift of new life each day.  Open my heart to receive this grace that I may be wholly yours, then give me the courage to share this gift wherever I go as I seek to walk in your way of mercy, forgiveness, and newness of life. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening         

Forgiving God, who makes all things new, you know where I have flourished this day, and you know where I have failed.  Help me to know that in all my challenges there is a seed of hope that enables me to more faithfully depend on you.  May I rest in peace this night and awake refreshed to greet the newness of your day. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
This entry was posted in Conversation Starters, Inspiration, Sermon. Bookmark the permalink.

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