When I was a kid I viewed the priest in my church with awe and reverence. He was clearly special, draped in ornate vestments, sitting solemn and statuesque in a throne behind the altar. He was mysterious, too -- a shadowy figure cloaked in dim behind the confessional screen, bestowing God’s forgiveness on me and wiping my soul clean with a few words and the sign of the cross as I kneeled next to the red velvet curtain.
I considered my priest powerful and authoritative, but also distant, set apart from us ordinary people. I remember asking my parents once if the priest was allowed to drink beer or smoke cigarettes. They shocked me when they answered, “Of course,” looking surprised that I’d ask such a question. But I’d assumed our priest was above such common practices. I pictured him alone in a stark room, sipping water and eating leftover Eucharist wafers. Beer and cigarettes, even fun for that matter, didn’t jive with my picture of priesthood at all.
I think that’s why I am always surprised when I hear myself – regular old flawed, foibly, loudly guffawing me -- described in the Bible as a priest, like we heard in 1 Peter yesterday:
But you are God’s chosen and special people. You are a group of royal priests and a holy nation. (1 Peter 2:9).
What, me? You’re talking to me? A royal priest? Yeah, I don’t think so.
After all, being chosen as one of God’s priests is special. It means I am important in his eyes, that I am connected directly and intimately to him. It means that I am set apart, and that I have a special role to fulfill in his kingdom – a role he created solely for me.
Feels like a lot of pressure, doesn’t it?
Truthfully, I don’t feel cut out for this job of “royal priest.” I’m too irritable. Too impatient. Too self-centered. I’m not solemn enough, or wise enough. I gossip from time to time and complain regularly and am short-tempered with my kids. I’m not priestly at all.
Of course, I’m forgetting one important fact: that the priests of my childhood were flawed, too. Though they wore fancy vestments, they still battled sin and despair, just like me. Though I thought they bestowed forgiveness on me, in reality, they, too, had to ask God for forgiveness just as often. Turns out, they weren’t much different from me.
What I’m learning is this: God chooses each of his people to serve as royal priests. Some of us wear ornate robes, stand behind church altars and lead congregations through worship. Others of us wear jeans or suits and work in offices or herd kids. But we all share something in common: God chose each one of us as a royal priest, to carry out unique and important work in his kingdom on Earth.
How does it feel to consider yourself as one of God’s royal priests?