Scripture Text: Hebrews 5: 5-10 (Lent 5B)
5So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” 7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
St. Iranaeus of Lyons once said that “the glory of God is humanity fully alive.” What does that mean, to be “fully alive”? I don’t think that it means, as we might jump to conclude, reaching some sort of pinnacle of humanity, you know the “be all you can be” phenomenon. It is not in any way hierarchical. It doesn’t mean that one is better or worse or less alive than another. Being fully alive is rather embracing all that we are, all that God envisions us to be. It does not mean being superhuman; it means being fully human; it means being the very image of God such that was perfected in Jesus Christ.
So, who is this Melchizedek character? He crops up in the Bible a couple of times at best—in Genesis (Gen. 14:18) as Abraham is called by God and then again in Psalm 110 and then here. His name means “King of Righteousness” or “King of Peace” in some places. Remember that Abraham had been called by God and was promised that he would become the father of many nations. But that hadn’t happened, and Abraham was feeling the pressure of it all. So, at this lowest, darkest point, in the middle of the wilderness, so to speak, enter Melchizedek, a somewhat shadowy character that drifts in and out, almost not even worth a speaking part in the whole drama of Abraham. But he offers Abraham blessing, and food and wine. He just comes. He just shows up. (See, this is all sounding vaguely familiar.)
So, enter Jesus Christ, a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. It’s not hierarchical; it’s an ordering of life. And we are baptized into that same order. It is not a designation that comes with power or tenure or honor. We are not “set apart” away from the world or away from life. We are baptized into the order of life, this great continual ordering of God. Our lives will be filled with love. They will also endure suffering. We will walk through feasts and famines. We will traverse mountains of light and dark valleys. We will journey through the familiarity and comforts of home and places of deep wilderness. Living the depth and breadth of our lives makes us fully alive, makes us real. But, into our high points and our low points, a somewhat shadowy character drifts in and out, offers us blessing, and food and wine. God just comes over and over and over again, God comes. God just shows up. Perhaps being fully alive is knowing that you are loved, not that you have to earn that love or gain that love or do something specific for that love. Love just comes. Being fully alive is knowing in the deepest part of your being how much you are loved, so loved that it literally spills out of you into the world.
The wilderness teaches us to become fully alive, to feel pain and acknowledge suffering as a part of life and Lent is an invitation to become fully alive, to immerse ourselves into life, to finally allow ourselves to feel loss and emptiness as normal human emotions, to feel the Cross, so that we can grasp the untold Joy of Resurrection. Lent is an invitation to become real, to know Love, to know Love in the deepest part of who we are. Maybe Love that is found in the wilderness makes us fully alive. Maybe Love that comes when we need it the most, when our lives are emptied out, when we are surrounded by darkness, when we can do nothing to earn love, is the Love that we finally need to know.
When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable. (Madeleine L’Engle)
Grace and Peace,