Lectio Divina – Melchizedek
During Easter season and every year around Passover, scripture readings are full of references to “the order of Melchizedek.” While many of us are familiar with the expression and the name, Melchizedek, I did not know much about the man, nor the specific “order” referred to in the quotation. Digging deeper, there are ancient roots with a major impact on what many consider Christian and Catholic traditions. Yet the Order of Melchizedek goes far back into the Old Testament, and the traditions have influenced many religious faiths.
Melchizedek, or Malki Tzedek, was a king and a priest mentioned in the Book of Genesis (Chapter 14) during the time of Abram, where the author introduces him as the King of Salem and priest of El Elyon (“God most high”). Melchizedek is the first person in the Torah who is honored with the title of Kohen (priest). The historical figure, Shem, the son of Noah, passed down a blessing that is extended to Melchizedek and which encourages the new Kohen to start his Order.
The sacrifice that Melchizedek offers to his God seems to be the most memorable act of this Priest / King. Instead of slaughtered animals or harvesting crops to bring to the table, as in the stories in Genesis (Cain & Abel) and Exodus (Passover), Melchizadek brings bread and wine to the altar of sacrifice. He prays over them and asks that they be acceptable offerings. He both seeks the blessing from and extends his blessing on Abram and God Most High.
Connections to the New Testament
In the Roman Catholic Rite, Jesus Christ is identified in St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews as a priest forever in the Order of Melchizedek, and so the man, Jesus, assumes the role of high priest for all (Hebrews 5: 6, 10; 6: 20; 7: 1, 10, 11, 15, 17, 21). In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul writes a long list of comparisons between Jesus and Melchizedek. The letter is a direct reference to Psalms (Ps. 110: 4).
After the crucifixion of Jesus, two of his disciples were on the road to Emmaus that same afternoon, seven miles from Jerusalem. As the Gospel reports, they were walking side-by-side with Jesus for many miles, but they do not know it was him. “’Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent’ … when he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.” (Luke 24: 29 – 31) The breaking of the bread, as Melchizedek had instructed, was the clue that the disciples needed to awaken to identity of their guest. The disciples rushed back to Jerusalem and met with the eleven apostles, proclaiming that their hearts were burning within each, while Jesus talked with them on the road and broke open the scriptures for them. (Luke 24: 32)
According to various sources, there are many other traditions besides Jews and Roman Catholics which look to Melchizedek for instruction on how to sacrifice at the altar of the Lord. Those traditions include the Mormons, Evangelical Christians, Muslims, Gnostics and others. (1) Before Melchizedek’s time, going back to the examples of Cain and Abel, sacrifices on the high altars were made with slaughtered animals and harvested fruits and vegetables. After his time, the meat and vegetables are replaced with wine and bread, thus starting the NEW ORDER.
The notion of what is worthy of sacrifice is often the focus of religious ceremonies. The idea of Human Sacrifice, while seen as barbaric today, was at the heart of the story of Abraham and Isaac, where Yahweh challenged Abraham to offer his only son on the altar of sacrifice. Yahweh magically had a ram appear caught in a nearby bramble, when Abraham actually followed the the instructions of his Lord and raised the knife to kill Isaac, his only heir.
Jesus suffers on the cross to symbolize that no more must human’s sacrifice their lives, as He has become the last human sacrifice for all of us. He has done it for all time. We offer in sacrifice our bread, wine, work and wealth. We now place these gifts at the altar, as they become part of our Eucharistic sacrament.
Some traditions also attribute generosity in the form of “tithing” (giving 10% of your income annually in service to God) to the Order of Melchizedek.
Seal of the Dominion of Melchizedek
The question at Easter for Christians is sometimes posed: What sacrifices are we making today? How do our sacrifices measure up to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ? Looked at another way, the promise of Easter is that we no longer have to “measure up.” Because of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, we no longer need for sacrifice to mean death of animals and destruction of our resources. By the breaking of the bread and the blessing of wine, and the consecration of the bread and wine brought to the table, we enter into His “new covenant” with the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christ’s death leads us on the path to eternal life.
At the end of the Eucharistic celebration in the Catholic tradition, the Priest raises bread and wine above his head, saying the words: “Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, forever and ever. AMEN!” Following in the Order of Melchizedek, we are sealed with monotheistic unity and peace, as described in the Old Testament and in the New Testament at the Last Supper.
Juanes Avondmaal’s The Last Supper
(1) http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+7; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melchizedek; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priesthood_of_Melchizedek