(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, April 29, 2012)
Daily Office Readings for Sunday, April 29, 2012:
Psalm 63:1-8 (9-11)
Psalm 98 (Morning)
Psalm 103 (Evening)
Exodus 28:1-4, 30-38
1 John 2:18-29
Exodus 28:1-4, 30-38 (NRSV):
Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. You shall make sacred vestments for the glorious adornment of your brother Aaron. And you shall speak to all who have ability, whom I have endowed with skill, that they make Aaron’s vestments to consecrate him for my priesthood. These are the vestments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a checkered tunic, a turban, and a sash. When they make these sacred vestments for your brother Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests, In the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the Lord; thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the Israelites on his heart before the Lord continually.
You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. It shall have an opening for the head in the middle of it, with a woven binding around the opening, like the opening in a coat of mail, so that it may not be torn. On its lower hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, all around the lower hem, with bells of gold between them all around— a golden bell and a pomegranate alternating all around the lower hem of the robe. Aaron shall wear it when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the holy place before the Lord, and when he comes out, so that he may not die. You shall make a rosette of pure gold, and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, “Holy to the Lord.” You shall fasten it on the turban with a blue cord; it shall be on the front of the turban. It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall take on himself any guilt incurred in the holy offering that the Israelites consecrate as their sacred donations; it shall always be on his forehead, in order that they may find favor before the Lord.
The description of Aaron's vestments in Exodus 28 are so detailed, I think if there are any folks reading who are into sewing, they'd have no problem re-creating them. Probably most of us have no problem visualizing them, and that was the purpose in the time of Exodus, also--anyone walking down the street would have no problem recognizing the Kohen Gadol from a distance.
In contrast, I always think of a story my closest mentor in pathology used to tell me about the time he was traveling in New York state during the Jewish High Holy Days. He was never terribly observant in his Jewish faith, but he did take things like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur pretty seriously, and in the days before the Internet, he was scouring the midstate countryside looking for a town big enough to have a temple. He finally found one, and had ended up there literally just in time, and even then, he was actually late. However, the service had not started, because they didn't have a minyan. He was met at the door by an anxious looking older man, who hurriedly asked him, "Are you a Kohen or a Levite?"
My mentor was still a little foggy from driving around desperately, so he was a little slow to answer and looked confused. Now, actually, he was a Levite--but he hadn't expected the question and was slow to answer.
The anxious man looked even more anxious and blurted, "Well, are you Jewish?"
I think about this story when I think about each of us being part of "the priesthood of all believers." I don't think most of us really "get" that we are great high priests of the faith in our own right. How many of us actually feel like we are priests? In the Episcopal Church, we tend to identify the priests as the ones wearing the black shirts and the "dog collars." Certainly, that is the uniform of someone who submitted to the sacramental priesthood. However, we probably all have some degree of confusion or ignorance about something more important--our fundamental priesthood as believers, which is bestowed upon us in our baptism.
L. William Countryman explains this quite nicely in the book Living on the Border of the Holy. A sacramental priesthood doesn't trump our fundamental priesthood--it's really more of a different level of obedience rather than power--and the church really is best served when the laity fully understand their own fundamental priesthood as believers. There are plenty of times in the church we ought to be looking to our own fundamental priesthood instead of dumping it onto the role of the sacramental priest.
That said, laity who understand their own fundamental priesthoods--and understand obedience to God through them, rather than seeing it as "power"--can create tension, particularly if the sacramental priest is of a personality where he or she uses the identity of "priest" to bolster his or her sense of self. One of the things I've come to discover is that clergy who rely on their sacramental priesthood for their self-image are going to have some real problems down the line if they have individuals in their parish who are very strongly in touch with their own fundamental priesthoods.
Sometimes I wonder if we'd get it if, after we were baptized and confirmed, we had to walk around in something like Aaron's Blue Ephod of Bling for 40 days. I say that because of a piece of spiritual direction I was once given at a time I was feeling pretty shaky about my fundamental priesthood. I am fond of banded collar western shirts, and this was noticed by someone I trust to spiritually guide me, and made the following suggestion: "For the next month, wear one of your banded collar Western shirts every day, and imagine it's like a priest's collar. Don't think about it all the time, but just have that idea in your head that you are a priest and this is your collar, and see how that changes you at the end of 30 days."
I found this experience really did change me. I was slower to anger, more careful to speak, and I found myself thinking more about the souls of the people I was dealing with--whether I wanted to build up the Body of Christ in my interactions with them vs. tear it down.
What can you do in your own life that will illustrate to you that you, too, are wearing Aaron's Blue Ephod of Bling--that although it may be invisible to the eye, is very present in God's realm?