A priestly kingdom – inspired and created by Exodus

“See what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings.
You shall be for me a priestly kingdom.” (from Exodus 19).

A “kingdom” is a proper collective noun for priests. God’s call of priests is for the whole people, the whole nation – for the many, not just the few. It is for all those who have been borne on eagles’ wings through the harshest circumstances imaginable – in the case of these people hearing God’s call in Exodus, it is people who have suffered slavery and all kinds of oppression. There are no priests who don’t belong to the kingdom, and outside of the kingdom there is no call for priests.

This priestly kingdom is more than the “priesthood of all believers” – this is a priesthood of all those who have been liberated. Their liberation defines their identity and identifies their function of being a blessing for the whole world, for all the nations. (It defines “blessing” as nothing less than liberative, nothing less than redemptive even from the worst evil imaginable.)

How have we got our understanding of priesthood so spectacularly wrong? In common parlance priests are those who are ordained. Peter writes to those who were “nobodies” – “aliens and strangers in the world”: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his own marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9).

The Ordination Service takes up the call: “God calls his people to follow Christ and forms us into a royal priesthood”. This is the vocation of the whole church, not just a few of its members, “to declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light”. The liturgy of the Ordination of Priests continues: “To serve this royal priesthood, God has given particular ministries” – ordained priests being among them.

What distinguishes those who are ordained priests is that they can be trusted with the power of ordering the life of this kingdom, co-ordinating its energy for the purposes of peace, making its wonder ordinary in the community’s DNA. The discernment and formation processes are supposed to see to that. The charge they accept is to do those things which serve this royal priesthood, the whole people of God, borne on eagles’ wings through times of trial and trouble in order that this kingdom of priests will be blessing for the whole world.

For that they will share with their Bishop as messengers and stewards, watching for the signs of God’s new creation. They will teach and encourage. They will guide people through temptation and confusion and they will declare in Christ’s name the forgiveness of sins.

With all God’s people they will baptise new disciples, preach faithfully in and out of season. They will preside at the Lord’s table and lead the kingdom of priests in worship. They will bless people in God’s name. They will resist evil, supporting the weak, defending the poor and interceding for those in need.

These things and others they are trusted to take on in order to serve the work of the kingdom of priests (aka “church” and “Israel”) – always for the purposes of the kingdom of priests: for the blessing and praise of all of God’s creation.

Laban and Jacob have their say on the folly of borders and their control

A cairn marking the boundary between Norway and Sweden in a remote area of the Arctic. Photo by Bjorn Christian Torrissen

The UK Government has announced plans to take “full control” of borders unveiling an Australian-style points system to overhaul immigration law and close our borders to unskilled workers and those who can’t speak English. When we talk about taking “full control of our borders” aren’t we just allowing fear and anxiety to take control of our borders? Are we forgetting border controls escalate and will be reciprocated? Have we given any thought to who in the end will wipe our bums?

This is all part of the deceit of government. I have been intrigued by the stories about Jacob and Laban from Genesis 29-31. Jacob is the “leg-puller”, the “supplanter”, the “deceiver”. Laban is the “white man”. Laban means white. The story of Laban and Jacob is a saga of deception – the white man deceiving the deceiver. Was Jacob the outsmarter of the two?) They come to terms with each other by building a witness heap of stones laid by their families as a commitment to peace. It marked the first bilingual place name recorded in the Bible – Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha and Jacob called it Galeed – the translations of “witness heap” in their respective languages.

Galeed, (we would perhaps call it a cairn) stood as a landmarked prayer. It provided a boundary to their hostility, an end to it. Significantly both Jacob and Laban refuse to take control of their new border. Instead they pray: “The Lord watch between you and me”. The Lord is the one they want to control their border and to watch their limits so that they never cross for harm but only cross for peace.

I wonder when we pray, when we put or hands together, whether we are building a cairn – a knuckle-boned physical structure to mark the limits of our hostility and anxiety, to say “beyond this only peace, beyond this only love”. Are our churches also cairn like landscaped prayers – places to confess our hostility, to find better ways to deal with our differences and markers within our communities beyond which we commit to “go in peace”? “This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me.” (Genesis 31:51f)

Borders are worse for our control when our export is fear. The boundaries of our Brexit mindset become brickset – walls built against others deconstructing differences, obstructing relationships, restricting trade and exchange.

Where are we building our witness heaps and our places of commitment? How are we replacing walls with cairns? How do we lament our nationalism?

Seeing ourselves as others see us

This is Dobri Dobrev who begged in the streets and churches of Sofia, blessing those he met with the words “Rejoice in the Lord!”. He raised thousands for churches and monasteries.

Imagine this.

“A formerly homeless theatre workshop participant searches out the right characters for his tableau; he scans the group, and points to me. He places me in the scene; he lifts my arms and shapes my hand into a dismissive wave; he adjusts my hips and torso; he sculpts my face with his fingers, gently, until I am scowling scornfully. He crouches low, cowering in front of where I stand, and we hold this image. I hold this stance, I become this character.

I feel in my body how he sees people like me, I feel in my body that I am this character. My arms begin to ache; I try to look for cracks in the mould to overwrite this position of scorn, but I am frozen in character before the group. I am implicated.”

That is from Emily Beausoleil’s book The Politics, Science and Art of Receptivity. It was brought to our attention by Al Barrett during a residential conference he facilitated exploring Theology post-Grenfell, post-Brexit (!).

Imagine that. Imagine being so contorted in the eyes of a brother or a sister – someone who is homeless. Imagine what we look like as we step aside, as we look the other way, as we pretend to search our pockets for “no change”. Imagine what we sound like with our feeble excuses and dismissive words. Imagine the ugliness of ignorance and arrogance. Imagine the ugliness of being too busy.

Imagine the hands sculpting our face into scowling impatience and our imposing presence towering over the cowering and crouching.

Then imagine those rough hands at our face again – this time taking our cheek for a kiss, and a “thank you, friend”. What change would there have been in our face, posture and behaviour?

Show me the way to go home.