If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
15 April. 1 Kings chapters 8-9
After completing the temple, there was (of course) a great week-long celebration to dedicate it. It’s a natural human instinct to celebrate the successful completion of anything, whether a course of study or the construction of a large building; or indeed a life well lived. The Jews seem to have a particular knack for celebrating well, and their festival of Hanukah in December still recalls the dedication of the temple (the later one, not Solomon’s).
But before the feasting starts (someone had to eat the meat of the 120,000 sheep and 20,000 cattle that were sacrificed!) the high point is Solomon’s dedication sermon recorded here in full. Although we are not told here what he was wearing, a look back at the provisions in the book of Leviticus will tell us about the finery of his robes – and remember he was king as well as high priest, for the people of Israel had demanded that their spiritual leader should also have the title and function of a king.
The speech alternates between addressing God and addressing the gathered people. Solomon kneels before the altar and the ark of the covenant, which symbolise the presence of God, though he acknowledges that God is everywhere, and asks God to bless those who keep his laws, and forgive those who repent when they have sinned. Then he turns to the people, reminds them of the promises that God keeps, and exhorts them to keep the laws.
That is essentially the role of a priest, or any minister of religion – to be an intermediary between God and humanity. From time to time, Christians have argued about what we should call the leaders of our communities and what their function should be – are they ‘priests’ fulfilling a Solomon-like function to which they have a special calling, or in recognition of the risen Christ’s role as a permanent high priest for us in heaven, should we just call them ‘ministers’ or ‘pastors’ and treat them as brothers and sisters on equal terms?
You can still find both attitudes, even within my denomination (Church of England). In one church you may find a ‘priest’ dressed in essentially Roman robes, standing before the altar conducting the ‘mass’ that (apart from translation) has changed little since Roman times and where Solomon might feel at home, in others a ‘pastor’ in contemporary clothes facilitating a joyful gathering in which people of all ages and genders share in the teaching and prayers. But whatever you call your church leader, and however he (or she) dresses, their role is to assist you in worship and living God’s way, or as Jesus put it, in “loving God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and your neighbour as yourself”.