When I was a young boy — back in first grade, if I remember correctly — my parents sent me to a Catholic school. (My father worked for an educational publisher at the time; and this was the only local school that used their curriculum.) For the most part, all the teaching duties at the school were handled by nuns, most of whom — in my experience — were very kind and nurturing (no rulers and stern gazes that I can recall). But the priest was a different story. We saw him only on rare occasions. And even then, he was far-removed from us children and dressed in garments, which — for this Protestant child, at least — made him a figure of fear and fascination. He might as well have been a space alien.
Thankfully, of course, life has taught me that not all priests are like that (just as — thankfully — life has taught me that not all Baptist preachers wear polyester suits and white patent-leather shoes). But how much more reassuring and hopeful is the description of our True Priest that is found in today’s Daily Office:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
No matter what we face — fear, loneliness, pain, rejection — Jesus understands, because Jesus has faced these hardships, too. And through Him, we experience in the most direct and profound way what it means to have a Heavenly Father who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.
Of course, in the Baptist tradition of which I’m a part, we tend not to talk much about priests, emphasizing instead “the priesthood of all believers.” And while there certainly is valid biblical reason for this emphasis, I wonder if it inclines us to forget sometimes how much we need a “go-between” — not in the sense that we are unable to “approach God directly” — but in the sense that we can only do so because we have a Priest who teaches God’s truth to us and brings our needs before God.
And what’s more, I wonder if our avoidance of priestly language obscures our responsibility to be “Priests to Each Other” (to borrow a phrase from Carlyle Marney). We need to be and are called to be “holy officiants,” who are constantly setting the needs of our brothers and sisters before God – and setting His grace and forgiveness before them.
May we approach God’s throne confidently today, knowing that we have a Priest – and that we are priests. Through Jesus, may God’s grace be mediated to us. And through us, may God’s grace be mediated to a broken and grace-starved world.