The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn
A Great High Priest
A Homily for Passion Sunday
March 18, 2018
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Hebrews 9:11-15
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
If Christ is the great high priest of things to come why does our tradition have priests? Why is it that Anglicans, along with Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox and perhaps some others that I cannot think of still call their spiritual leaders, their pastors, priests? Did they not read this passage and others? Did we not get the memo from Martin Luther that there is now a priesthood of all believers? Or do we need have a better understanding of what a Christian priest is?
Let us explore for a moment the priesthood in the Anglican tradition. The priest serves a function of bearing the sacraments to the people. However, he is not the effectual bearer of the sacrament, but rather an image bearer, a reminder of something greater than himself. This is most clear in the Holy Communion rite. When we come to the Lord’s table, we do not come by the power in us, but through the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that draws us to the table and consecrates the bread and wine that they may be gifts for us to taste and see the future hope of heaven that we are given in Christ. So the priest’s function in all of this is die to himself, and let Christ’s image be reflected. It is not to draw any attention to himself, but rather to point to his and all of ours’s redeemer.
The priest is therefore called to be an icon of Christ in the liturgy, called to remind all those who are present to partake the in the sacrament of what Christ did for each of us. There is nothing that he does, there is nothing that I do in the liturgy that should cause attention to be given to me, but rather, every action of the priest should be pointing back to Christ. We must understand that the ultimate end of Holy Communion and all of the sacraments is that each of us would experience Christ. Each of us would have a deeper walk with the Lord.
But, we must take this a step further. His office isn’t only on Sunday mornings, or when he is performing a sacramental duty, but throughout the week, every day he is a priest. So what do we do with this? Every day the priest is called to be the light of Christ in the world, called to lay down his life for the other and let the light of Christ shine that others may know the goodness of the Lord.
And so what shall we say about the great reformation rally cry? Is the un-ordained Christian off the hook, and Martin Luther wrong about the priesthood of all believers? No, it is quite the opposite. While the congregation of the faithful calls a man to be their priest, to lead them, to set an example, they too are called to be priests, for we are all a part of the body of Christ. This doesn’t mean that they hold a sacramental office and duty, this doesn’t mean that you can forsake the congregation and have a piece of bread and a cup of grape juice at home, read your Bible, say a prayer and call it good. No, the priesthood of all believers serves a much more important function: they are to be the hands and feet of Christ, we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. Every Christian is called to be the light of Christ in the world.
Jesus’ final commandment in St. Matthew’s Gospel is:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Each and every Christian is called to be making disciples of all nations, from the youngest of us to the eldest. We are called to pour out our lives for the other that they may know Christ and grow in Him. We are called to be reflections, to reflect His light in a dark and dying world. This is what it means to be a part of the priesthood of all believers.
But now, there’s another element to the priesthood of all believers. In our reading from Hebrews we are told that Christ has entered into the Holy Place. We know from elsewhere that Christ sits at the right-hand of the Father. Because of who He is and because he shed his blood for us, we have an advocate who is God-incarnate Himself and who has the ear of the heavenly Father, so we can pray to Him, and we can pray without ceasing, and he never grows weary of hearing our voice. No longer do we need a priest to enter an earthly temple to pray to our Father for, no longer do we need to make sacrifices of goats or calves, and ask that the priest would offer them up for us. No, now we can come to the Father, day and night, around the clock, whenever our heart grieves or rejoices, we have the ability to petition the Father who hears us.
This second part is perhaps the more important part of the priesthood of all believers. Each of you here today, each of us who follows after Christ, whose heart has been circumcised by the Holy Spirit, who lives under the blood of the lamb has a compassionate Great High-Priest who can sympathize with all our suffering sits at the right-hand of the Father. So we can come before him with boldness in prayer and adoration.
In the high church setting clericalism is always a great threat, the idea that father knows best can often creep in, but the priest is a man too, and his calling isn’t to be a dictator or the sole intercessor for the parish but he is a fallen and broken person just like you. In fact an earnest priest, and this is the view of your priest, will know himself to be the chief sinner, the worst of all men, just as St. Paul saw himself. The priest’s calling is to be an icon, to model his life after Christ, to lay it down for those who he has been called to serve, to disciple those who are in his life, to pray for them, and to provide for them the sacraments. Those who have not been called to ordained life are also called to be icons of Christ in others’ lives, to lay down their lives for those who they’ve been called to serve, disciple those who are in their lives, pray for them, and to invite those who do not know the Lord to come to church, that they too might one day taste and see as each of us have tasted and seen.
I know that was a pretty deep dive on the theology of the priesthood and the idea of the priesthood of all believers and I hope that it helped us to understand both the calling of the priest in the congregation and the calling of the Christian in the world because this is important for a healthy Christian life, and a healthy congregation.
Now, let us look a little more at the lesson from Hebrews. In order to understand what is going on here we need to take a step back and talk about the other lessons which we read today, particularly the lessons from the Old Testament, in both Isaiah and Psalm 51 we read how God does not want outward signs, but inward conversion: For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee; * but thou delightest not in burnt-offerings the Psalmist writes, and again Isaiah says: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
What the Lord desires from us is not outward signs of religion, but an inward conversion of the heart. Not that the outward signs of religion are bad, but that they are empty without the conversation of the heart. Elsewhere, in both the prophecies of the Old Testament, and in St. Paul’s writings we read about the circumcision of the heart, and elsewhere again we read about the law being written on the heart. It is the Lord’s desire that our hearts would be convert to Him, be fully given to Him.
It is an easy thing to go through the motions, to get up on Sunday morning go to church, kneel, sit, partake in communion, go home, try your best to not hurt anyone through the week and do it all over again never giving your life to the Lord, but just performing the motions that seem good. It is a much harder, but much better thing to come before the Lord and say “here is my heart, take it and make it yours,” to submit to him and let him work in your heart. For in our hearts there are idols that we hold dear, there are things that we don’t mind giving to the Lord, so long as he gives them back intact and how we want them. This isn’t the call, the call is to give it all, to give your whole heart to Him, and let Him work in you a deep goodness that draws you closer to Him.
The other week at Evensong I was preaching on false idols, and the Lord made clear to me that there was an idol that I had held too dear for too long and that I needed to let it go. One that I kept saying to Him, “Lord, I am content, so long as you give me this. This is what I need to walk deeper with you” and finally he made clear to me, that no, even in this area, I needed to trust in Him. It wasn’t until I was talking to a friend about that experience, that the Lord finally, completely dismantled this idol once and for all. It was painful, it was painful to see that I had held this area of my life back from the Lord, it was painful to see that thing that I held so incredibly dear come crumbling down, it was painful to feel the Lord remove it from my heart. Yet he was so very gentle, and what joy has flooded into the place it held! I had let my little idol cause me anxiety and fear, but the Lord promises a much better thing if you forsake all your worldly possessions and desires and follow after Him.
It is hard to give your whole heart, your whole life, your everything over to the Lord and say “I trust you.” Yet this is the Christian call, that the Lord would take our hearts, would circumcise them and make them His.
So we not only rest, but rejoice in the fact that we have a great high priest who has taken His spot in the heavenly throne room, and who has saved us through His blood. For it is His blood that washes our souls clean from sin, time and again. It is His blood that renews our spirit and purges us of the dead works that we desperately want to cling to and brings us to a place of serve in the Lord.
It is in purging these dead works that we can be truly and fully given to the task of prayer, reading His word, worshipping the living Lord, discipling one another, and bringing the Gospel into the whole world that others may see the work God is doing in us, and the work we are doing to His glory, and come to praise His holy name.
For we have been called to live in this new life, that has come through the death of Christ. Soon we will travel together through Holy Week, we will walk in the memory of it with his disciples, be confused with them on Maundy Thursday as our rich and beautiful liturgy falls apart, mourn with them the death of our Lord on Good Friday, wonder with them if there is something greater on Holy Saturday, and finally with them and all the saints proclaim with glad hearts “Christ is Risen!” on Easter Sunday. In all of this we have the advantage, that they did not, of knowing that Christ’s death was not the end and that in His death he paid it all, he paid for the sins that condemn us to death, and that we are made fully alive in Him.
So let us take heart, let us be given to the tasks of the Christin life, of praying, of reading the word of God, of partaking in the sacraments, of letting the Holy Spirit work in us by creating in us knew hearts upon which the law is written, letting Him ply out from our hearts the idols we hold so dear, that we might throw all of our cares upon him. Let us be given to the task of preaching the word that others may know of the goodness of the Lord, and be given to Holy Friendship shared between one another that we may bear each other’s burdens in prayer and love and let us, in all of this be rejoicing always: For Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.