A Shared Priesthood

July 5, 2006

In preparing my sermon for this Sunday, I came across this absolutely lovely story:

She sat huddled in her wheelchair as I turned the television tray between us into an altar: tiny chalice, tiny paten, and a yellow rose from the garden, all spread on an embossed white paper napkin. Because she was 97 years old and all but blind, I suggested that she not bother with a prayer book. “I’ll read all the lines,” I said, “yours and mine too. You just join in on the parts you know.” She nodded and we began, each of us delivering our lines on cue until I came to the Great Thanksgiving. Then, when I raised my hands, she raised hers too, the sleeves of her flowered gown falling down her bony arms as she lifted her gnarled fists into the air. We faced each other across the table, mirror images of one another.
“Holy and gracious Father,” I began, “in your infinite love you made us for yourself . . . ”
“In your infinite love” she said slowly, tasting each word.
“And, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death,” I went on, “you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ . . . ”
“In your mercy,” she said, smiling as though someone she knew had just entered the room. When I realized she meant to say the whole prayer with me, I waited for her to catch up and we prayed it together, our voices looping through one another in an unstudied duet. I had thought they were my lines, but they turned out to be hers, as well. No one had fooled her, all those years she sat watching someone else bless the bread and the wine. She knew she was a priest (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life, Cowley Publications, 1993, pp. 25-34).

It is easy to forget this as a minister. Every week, I prepare for my special function in the church. I get ready to get into the pulpit and interpret texts and teach and offer guidance and advice. But this is a mere function of my ordination, not my baptism. We are all priests by virtue of our baptism. We each have this prophetic and heraldic and pastoral task to carry out as part of the reality in which we claim to live.

But there are so many sheep days, for pastors (pun intended) and for parishioners. There are so many days that the practice of who we are disintegrates, and we forget to walk in the borderlands of the world and the kingdom. Apparently not the case for the old woman in this story.


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