Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Christ our High Priest

As promised, here is the 'text' of the sermon I delivered on the fifth Sunday of Lent.


The Greeks who came to worship for the Passover must have seen Jesus as a great teacher. Greek culture esteemed wisdom and philosophy, so why not come to listen to this strange Jewish philosopher? Perhaps these Greeks saw Jesus as Israel’s Socrates; some thinker who astounded and angered so many powerful people with his words. The Greeks then wanted to come to Jesus, ask him a few questions, sit and listen to his words and parables.

Meeting Christ, though, is more than sitting at his feet and listening to his parables and teaching. Jesus is not summed up in the words he spoke. To really see Christ requires us to see the entirety of his life and to see who he really is. His teaching, his life, his death, and his resurrection are tied up together; they cannot be separated from each other.

He did not come as just a sage or teacher; to see Christ as merely a teacher severs his word from his work and life. Like all good teachers, the teaching should be reflected in the work and life of the teacher. Christ was sent by God the Father to be the shepherd of the sheep, to be the Messiah, and to be our high priest.

Jesus represents us before God and acts on our behalf. Christ lifts us up to God and represents our humanity and our frailty. Christ cries and rejoices with us when we turn again to God after having wandered away, and Christ cries in mourning when we walk away.

Christ as the go-between of God and humanity means that Christ’s teaching is not about making us blameless and sinless before God but in preparing all our hearts, our souls and our minds for our relationship with God. We cannot satisfy the letter of the Law. We cannot be perfect, but we can be prepared for a life of justice and love which brings us into closer communion with God.

Our high priest does not satisfy God with bloody animal sacrifices but is himself the sacrifice so that we can know that God wants us, wants our humanity, not the blood of bulls. Christ offered himself so that the bond between Creation and its Creator might be healed, strengthened, and brought into perfect union.

Once a year in ancient Israel, the high priest would enter into the innermost chamber of the Temple, the Holy of Holies. In this chamber God dwelt, and no one would dare enter into God’s sacred space. The high priest had to enter the chamber with a little rope tied around his ankle so that in case he died in God’s presence he could be pulled out without anyone else having to run into that holy chamber. For who can gaze on God’s face and live? Which of us could dare to look at God’s face? To see the Most Holy? To gaze into the eyes of the Creator of all that is? Who would willingly risk walking into the presence of God Almighty in the hopes of reconciling this world filled with injustice, destruction and hatred with the God who is Love?

Christ as our high priest makes that risk for us. Christ, being the Son of God, enters into the chamber of God the Father to continually bring us into a right relationship with God, and to bring the powerful grace of God to us. The Son of God became incarnate to draw all of creation to God and to bring God to creation.

But in order to serve Christ our high priest, we must follow him. We cannot serve Christ without following in his footsteps as a loyal servant, always ready to say, “Your servant is listening.” But if we follow Christ in our lives and in our deaths, do we not also have to approach God’s innermost chamber? To walk into the presence of Almighty God alongside our High Priest and to risk gazing on the Face of God?

My mother frequently told me as a child that her greatest fear was Judgment Day because it was the day when she would look upon God, look deep into those eyes of love, and realize she had not loved enough. She worried that she did not love God enough and that she did not love her neighbor enough. To me, that would be the worst Hell imaginable: to look into God’s loving face and see how much I had NOT loved. To see how much I had not loved God when it is the greatest joy to love God. To see how much I had not loved my neighbor because bearing hatred in my heart was “easier” or made me feel righteous. To see how much I had not loved myself because I had deemed myself unworthy of all love.

Looking into God’s face is both our joy and our judgment. When we stand before God who is Love, we are finally given what our hearts long for: perfect union with God and creation. But when we stand before God we are also reminded of how much we are called to love. We are called to love God with all our hearts, all our strength and all our minds, and we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Christ’s teaching prepares our lives for that day when we are brought into God’s presence, our hands clutching Christ’s hand, clinging to the boldness and the compassion of our high priest. Our ministry of love and justice is not what allows us to enter so boldly into the Presence of God; we follow our High Priest who is perfect, bringing ourselves as an offering of love to God.

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