The music was wonderful and the food was delicious. So, even though we needed to get up early and head back to the trailhead, we did not get back to the hotel until quite late. Which meant that we got up late and got a very late start. But everyone thought it was worth the price we would now have to pay, which was to hike late into the evening.
The day was hot, but not humid. We had to be careful to get plenty to drink. That meant frequent stops, which slowed us down. Around six o’clock we were ready to stop for the night. Tired, hungry and beginning to grumble, we climbed up a small hill and, to our surprise, found a plateau with a nice campground on it. Off to our left was a winery and restaurant. The entire group shouted for joy.
Quickly setting up tents and racing to the showers, we were very soon ready to invade the restaurant. As we finished our lamb chops Lucy stood up and announced, “I’m going to sit in the courtyard and watch the stars. Anyone want to join me?” Apparently, everyone did.
Once we were seated our waiter brought some Israeli crackers, both wheat and rye, Zefatit and Cottage cheese and more of their fabulous wine. As we watched the stars Lucy spoke up again, “I’d like to take a minute to sum up what I’ve discovered on this adventure. Is that okay?” There were a few mild assents, but most of us just looked at her and nodded.
She began, “First, I think our God is quite marvelous. I am most impressed with the way a group can ask Him about anything, like we have been doing, and get a communal answer that is in agreement. So the first question I have is why we Christians do not do this? I think the answer to that question is blatantly obvious and I don’t like it.
“Second, it’s going to take me some time to digest all the stuff I’ve learned. The most difficult to understand, for me, is what we learned about music. Well, it’s easy to get the basic idea, the rest of it is something I need to pray about and study.
“Third, we are priests. That is, we have direct access to God. That’s why we can talk to Him, ask Him to guide us as a group and individually. I always thought of prayer as a formal statement; instead, I’ve learned that it is a conversation. We really can talk to God any time. That’s amazing.
“Fourth, all that stuff about baptism being an ordination, well, that’s fine. It might help some people. Then, all that about the Body of Christ and Eucharist…” She pointed at Jim, Katrina and Ralph, “…well you guys have blown my mind.” She laughed, then said, “Good thing Tom and Josephine didn’t tell me that. But Ralph? Jim? Katrina? Do you really think that’s right? My pastor’s going to think I’m turning Catholic.” She laughed again, then sat down.
“I’d like to go next.” Nicholas had stood up and was looking around. He said, “What our breakfast host told us, that you have to be a priest to go inside the temple, that was mind-blowing for me. I’ve never thought of the church building as a temple, but it really is one. Like Lucy, I’m still trying to figure out what Jim, Katrina and Ralph told us. I really need to pray—talk–to Jesus about the rest of it.”
Tom stood up, “Lucy, believe it or not, what Ralph, Jim and Katrina said was truly news to me. Roman Catholics don’t actually practice that. We practice the idea that we are lay people and they are the clergy. But what amazed me was Timothy talking about windmills and lions and King David’s Tomb. On our excursion, Phillip began to talk about the idea of ‘place’ and I did not understand him. Now I think I’m beginning to.”
“Place is something I’m still working on.” Phillip had stood up. He almost sat back down, but then continued, “Music has something to do with it. Something along the idea of variety. If you look at the world, you must notice all the variety. Humans are like that, we like variety also. Place has something to do with that, but also with the various denominations. What has most impressed me is the idea that we, as baptized Christians, are part of the Body of Christ. And since we are, we become priests. I’m wondering if our priesthood is not an individual thing, but a collective thing. Like all the notes that make up a song. It’s something to pray about.”
Amanda stood up. She, also, was hesitant to say anything. After a moment, she said, “I just want to add one little thing. When Louise and Julie joined us, there was a point when someone said something about how we needed a check on the clergy. Somebody said that the bishops and priests and pastors can get stupid. I thought about how some have led their congregations astray. Remember Jim Jones and Jim Bakker? But how do we know that Martin Luther and John Calvin were right?” She took a deep breath, knowing that some would consider that question heresy. Then she continued, “Well, we know because we are priests ourselves. We can read the Bible. The problem is that we don’t. We shrug off our priesthood on the ordained clergy and depend on them for Truth. We become lazy lay people. Sure we go out and work in soup kitchens, help in hospitals, serve as volunteers in prisons and charity shops, all that stuff. But the only Truth we know is what we hear on Sunday morning.
“So, when our clergy gets it wrong, we don’t know enough to speak out. What’s more, if someone does, they do it in the form of an attack on the priest. That’s why so many churches split. What Phillip was saying makes sense to me. This priesthood of all believers is just that, all believers. We are, collectively, the Body of Christ and therefore we are, collectively, priests.”
“One little thing?” Jason was laughing. “Amanda, I think you’ve got something there. But it’s not, by any means, little.” A nervous giggle ran through the group. Jason continued, “The word ‘collective’ makes me wince. For us Westerners, ‘collective’ usually ends up meaning ‘totalitarian state’. A person can be either an individual or submit to a collective. Christianity does it differently. It is a collective. But it’s also individuals. Christianity is both. It’s like, ‘where two or more are gathered…’ but we accept Jesus as Savior individually, we’re baptized individually. We worship as a community, a collective. I was struggling with this baptism and ordination stuff. But you and Phillip make good sense. I think baptism is an ordination, but not like the ordination that makes a person a priest. It is a membership ritual, bringing a new person into the Body of Christ. And, therefore, into the collective. I think that’s all I’m going to say right now.” He sat down.
No one stood up for a few minutes. Finally, Amos said, “This cheese is quite delicious. And the wine is some of the best I’ve ever had. Looks like the Holy Spirit led us to the right place once again.” He said ‘place’ with specific emphasis, looking at Phillip, then looked up toward the kitchen, saying loudly, “Waiter, could I have a refill?”
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Everyone woke up very early, just before sunrise. The dawn provided enough light for us to pack up our campsite and get ready to hike back to the trailhead and our cars. The thought of returning home enhanced the nervous emotions that last night’s discussion had produced.
Our route was mostly upward, into the mountain peaks. Soon, someone shouted, “Look, there’s John 3:16!” Many of us expressed a desire to visit that peak. Since it was a short side trip, no one objected. When we reached the top we were a bit dismayed. Clouds surrounded the peak. We could barely make out the sun. However, no one wanted to leave. We had the observation area to ourselves. It would be a while before the crowd hiked up the trail. So we sat on the benches and faced the East.
Soon the clouds began to part. The sun broke through with a triple rainbow arcing across the sky, from north to south. Beneath the arc we could see a village. The roads were paved with stones or bricks. There were several shops such as a bakery, a butchers, a grocery, clothing stores, hardware stores, stables and garages, much as you might expect in a rural village. Sprinkled through the village were several churches. One was grey stone, one was red brick, a third was yellow brick, two were white wooden buildings, a couple were sheet metal siding.
As we watched, we began to see that the village was actually quite large. On one side of the village were several manufacturing plants, a sawmill, a hospital and a prison, a quarry, a multitude of farms, all the things a village community would need. It was a thriving place.
People would meet at one of the church buildings, walk to another church building and then to a third. The group would then split into small groups and go to the hospital, the prison, some of the poorest houses, some of the more prosperous one, too. Each group would be carrying baskets. We became aware that they were visiting ‘the least, the lost and the lonely’.
What became apparent was that the individual churches were working together. They were not operating as isolated, individual denominations. Instead they were operating as parts of The Body of Christ. Each person in the vision was a “Living Stone.” Shining in the background were three mountain peaks, 1 Corinthians 10:17, 1 Corinthians 12:20 and Ephesians 4:4.
Eventually the sun burned off the clouds and the mirage, or vision, faded. But the three peaks were still there. As we turned to hike back down to our trail, we saw our destination, a double peak, 1 Peter 2: 1-3 and 1 Peter 2: 9 & 10.
Between the two peaks is a chapel or temple built of living stones.
We were almost home.