to be a priest is to be a bridge

Once again this year University Hill Congregation is hosting forty seven texts on its Lenten pilgrimage to Easter. You can find the daily reflections here. I was assigned Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9. Here is my witness:

To be a priest is to be a bridge. Remember the priests of Israel standing in the Jordan river, holding back the waters, so that all the people (elders and infants, abled and dis-abled) can safely make the crossing to the other side. Remember that the Pope is known as “pontiff” from the Latin “pont” or bridge.

Here, in Hebrews, we learn that Jesus is our great High Priest. Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth. Jesus is the bridge because he knows human suffering and has “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.” Jesus is our High Priest because he knows the path of grief and has bridged the chasm to new life on the other side.

I remember being uncomfortable with being called a priest when I was ordained. I would rather be called “minister” or “pastor” or “reverend”. Priests were in other denominations, not in the United Church. Yet there was always that verse in I Peter that named all the baptised a “priesthood of believers”. What would it mean to accept my, and our, calling to be priests?

I remember the opening worship of the 6th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver in August 1983. The Pacific Coliseum was full. It felt more like spectacle than worship. The lower bowl was reserved for participants in the meeting. There we witnessed all manner of clerical attire – collars and robes and vestments of a world of priests and pastors. In the midst of the pageantry the preacher stepped forward. A tall, lone lay person dressed simply in jeans and a sweater. He stood in the middle of the huge crowd and spoke slowly, gently, powerfully of our call to ministry among those who suffer. It was Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche. Among the many ordained priests that day this humble man was the high priest among us, inviting us to share in the priestly work of Jesus. It was the day I said yes to the call to the priesthood.

Prayer – "Jesus, be our bridge through death to life that we may take our share in your priestly work."

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