by Rev. Matthew Harrison
The Rev. Dr. John Kleinig, an old friend from Australia, recently gave a marvelous presentation at a Doxology retreat. Doxology (www.doxology.us/) is an organization that assists pastors in the craft of caring for themselves, their families and their congregations. After a wild and wooly year of service, I thought it would be healthy for the president’s staff to attend a retreat along with roughly 170 pastors and their spouses. It was so refreshing.
One presentation particularly struck me. Dr. Kleinig lectured on “Access to the Father’s Grace: Finding Help for Ourselves and Others.” As Christians, we have a sacred and priestly calling (Heb. 3:1). In the Old Testament, access to God’s saving presence was strictly limited. Once a year, after thorough ritual washing, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctum of the temple, carrying blood for the sin offering. The blood was sprinkled liberally about the mercy seat, the Ark of the Covenant and the altar.
Jesus has rendered us all spiritual priests with access to the Father’s saving presence in His blessed Word and Sacrament. “Therefore my brothers, since we have confidence for entry into the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us come near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:19–22).
The apostolic writer is telling us that in Holy Baptism we are freed from sin and given a clean conscience. Our hearts are purified by forgiveness in the Sacrament of the Altar, and we have access—unhindered and rendered holy by Jesus—to stand in the holy presence of God Almighty. In fact, Jesus is our high priest, interceding with the Father on our behalf. In Jesus, we know we have not only access to the Father but also the Father’s willing and ready approval!
What does this mean for us priests? Many things, but especially that we can approach God with boldness in our prayers (Heb. 4:14, 16). There are many verses in the New Testament where people bring others to Jesus for help (Matt. 4:24; 8:16; 9:2, 32; 12:22; 14:35; 15:30; 17:17; 19:13), and we can do that same thing through our prayers. Think of the paralytic let down through the roof. The healing of this man was done by Jesus because of the faith of his friends. (“And when Jesus saw their faith . . .” [Mark 2:5]). What a marvelous text for us spiritual priests!
Dr. Kleinig shared with us his own practice of writing down the names of a half-dozen individuals whose situations had come to his attention the previous week. During the service, the Prayer of the Church and Holy Communion, he prays for them. In the ancient church, the people who were prayed for weekly in the service were listed in the dyptich, a sort of hinged tablet. In addition to my daily morning prayer—where I pray for an ever-changing and growing list of people and churches— I’m taking my personal dyptich to church this Sunday.
We can be as bold and confident of the Lord’s concern and compassion for our needy loved one, unbaptized grandchild or wayward brother as those men who were so bold as to remove the roof tiles and lower their friend right in front of Jesus’ face. In fact, Jesus loves to have us do this. He delights in our supplication and is humbled to bring our needs before the Father. This is our great privilege as priests. We have access right into the Holy of Holies, and through prayer, we can even bring friends into God’s presence. Be bold in your prayers for your friends and loved ones. Tear out the roof!
> For more on this subject, see Luther’s Works, American edition 24:87.
“Let’s go!” Mark 1:38