Hebrews 5, 1-10
Immediately after this morning’s reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews come these words:
“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain...”
Explaining who Melchizidek was and why the writer makes a link between him and Jesus Christ would indeed be hard, a task more suited to a Bible study than a short reflection. It would also distract us from the two simple and profound truths that this difficult passage contains.
The first of those truths is that the people who are called to the priesthood are human, yet their very humanity – the fact that they are “subject to weakness” – can make them effective in their ministry. This calling involves, in the words of Archbishop Michael Ramsey,
“caring for humanity in loving identification”
It is precisely those human weaknesses that make it possible to identify with other people, to understand something of their needs and their fears. And that is a ministry to which all Christians, lay and ordained, are called, a ministry of caring and service.
I was reminded of this when a friend phoned me while I was working on this reflection. My responses to the difficulties and fears of which he spoke was shaped my own difficulties and experiences. Those are not identical to his, and I was careful not to say “I know just how you feel” because I cannot possibly know that. What he and I share, as baptized Christians, was well expressed by Rowan Williams when he wrote that “The baptized person is not only in the midst of human suffering and muddle but in the middle of the love and delight of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
That brings us to the second profound truth in this passage from Hebrews. Jesus Christ has a full and perfect ability to care for humanity in loving identification precisely because he lived a human life and faced the profound challenges with which life and death confront us, including fear, grief, physical pain and the sense of feeling abandoned by God.
Because of that we can be sure that the mind of God knows us far better than we know ourselves and that the heart of God is full of a loving understanding of what it means to be human and how difficult and painful it can be. God truly does know just how we feel.
The compilers of the Lectionary cannot have known that this passage from Hebrews would fall on the Sunday before Russell’s ordination to the priesthood, nor that he will be exercising a priestly ministry at the Church of the Good Shepherd. The Epistle to the Hebrews may be densely argued and difficult to understand, but it ends with a resounding climax which will serve well as a prayer for Russell, and for all Christians, for we are all called to exercise ministries of love and service.
Now may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.