Who are the priests in your life?
I’m writing this entry in St Paul’s Cathedral. Twice a year our diocese gathers here for grand ordination ceremonies, where Anglican church leaders are pronounced deacons and then priests. The majestic building floods with music and regalia and choreography as women and men are commissioned to lead God’s people.
The details of Exodus 29 certainly remind us of the importance of rituals. How we act and dress and recite (and so on) can communicate at least as powerfully as words. The purpose of the elaborate ordination ceremony is spelled out in the closing verses (29:42–46). The whole tabernacle, its altar and its personnel have been ‘consecrated’ or ‘sanctified’: big words that mean ‘made holy’. This tent is declared to be God’s, himself the standard of holiness. The elaborate rituals brand Aaron and his sons as holy: suited to serve in the holy God’s presence. As we’ve seen throughout this week, the grand result is that the holy God can appear – safely – in the midst of his chosen people: ‘I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God.’ We also see why the tabernacle is often called ‘the tent of meeting’.
From the prior chapter, we remember that Israel’s priests don’t foreshadow Anglican priests. It’s an unfortunate accident of history and English that we use the same word for both (if only we all spoke Latin!). Aaron is not succeeded today by our local vicar but by Jesus. It is Jesus as our Great High Priest who ushers us into God’s presence and introduces us and invites our candid prayers (Hebrews 4:14–16). And Aaron illustrated for Israel how the whole nation of God’s people was ‘a kingdom of priests’ to introduce the wider nations of the earth to God (Exodus 19:4–6). That mantle now passes to all Christian believers (Revelation 5:9–10). Aaron’s ordination portrays a magnificent introduction both to Jesus’ ministry and to our own.