The following is the sermon preached by The Rev Dr Martin Brokenleg at the ordination to the priesthood of Christopher Samson, Gillian Hoyer and Matthew Brown on July 22, 2017 at St John the Divine, Victoria.
Christopher, Gillian, and Matthew, you made it. After all this time and effort you made it to today. All of us have come to be with you for this life-altering ceremony.
I had the benefit of leading the retreat this past week for the ordinands. I was comforted by what I observed and I have confidence in the future of our church because of what I saw. I was impressed by two distinctly Anglican traits that I saw among the ordinands: 1. Their dedication to personal as well as corporate prayer, and 2. Their effort to build a strong sense of community [together]. I see these two qualities as the fundamentals of loving their God and loving their neighbour. In keeping these foundational Christian practices, I have hope in the future with them as leaders in our church.
First let me ask those of you who are parishioners where these three have been serving to stand. I want the ordinands to stand and turn around to look at your people. You parishioners are the people who have come to know these deacons as your leaders, preachers and pastors. Shortly, the three will vow to “love and serve the people among whom [they] work, caring for alike young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.” Thank you for coming to support these priests-to-be. Thank you for working with these three deacons. You have almost whipped them into shape and we all thank you. The people may sit.
Will those of you who are family and relatives of the ordinands stand. Christopher, Gillian, and Matthew, these are the people who have loved you the longest and maybe the most. They have watched you grow and mature. Mothers and fathers will probably always remember you as toddlers in diapers and independent minded teenagers. I wonder if they ever thought God would call you to this high responsibility of priesthood. Your family will always love you and will hurt when you do and rejoice with you, as they rejoice today. We have only to look into their eyes to see how much they care about you. Thank you, family, for giving your daughter and sons for this sacrificial work of being a priest in the church of God. All of you may be seated.
So, Christopher, Gillian, and Matthew, you have made it to today. You made it after the trials of discernment committees asking questions you had never thought about. You survived the high blood pressure of [Advisory Committee on Postulants for ordination (ACPO)] and countless queries from priests and bishops. You made it, after all those late nights in seminary as your wrote out that paper that finally, once and for all, explained the doctrines of the Trinity and Original Sin. You have learned to talk in church about money without ever using that word. You have learned how to do pastoral care by text message. You have honed your ability to look interested in everything that comes up at clericus. You have managed to hide being bored at synods and conferences. You know how to devise a service and shorten a sermon. And now you have come to this day of being made a priest. But, think about this: this did not happen by your effort. You could have done nothing to make today happen.
We are here to make you priests …because it is God who called you, and God who wants you to be a priest. It was the hand of God that guided all the many events and decisions that bring all of us here today to see you made priests in the church of God.
In the church, we have the two sacraments instituted by Jesus in Baptism and Holy Communion. Eventually the church understood that there were other sacraments of the church; the other five transforming actions of the church, ordination being one of those. The Anglican definition of a sacrament is, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” So, at Holy Communion, the bread and wine will continue to appear to be bread and wine, but by God’s grace they mystically become the body and blood of Christ.
In ordination, The Holy Spirit of God, and the community of the church, transform the character of the deacon into that of a priest. The outward sign, the priest’s personality and appearance, will remain the same but the inward grace of the priest will be transformed by the Holy Spirit into the character of Christ. The personhood of the priest becomes the image, the icon of Christ.
As the manifestation of Christ, you will care for your people. Your hands may be anointed to signify this. A Bible will be given to you to signify the always-loving word of God that you will speak [when you preach]. You will be given a chalice and paten, the instruments of the Eucharist, so you will engage in the continual self-sacrifice of the Lord for the sake of the people. As a priest, your life is no longer your own, but will be given away for the sake of the community and the work of God.
These symbols of a pastor, a preacher, and a priest point to the inner change of character that ordination makes happen. You will never again have the character of a layperson. Your character will now be that of a priest for as long as you live. We say, in liturgy-speak, that you will be, “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” And who is Melchizedek? He is the Indigenous holy man who greets the arriving settler Abraham, giving him the hospitality of bread and wine. Melchizedek is holy because of his everlasting life and, in providing bread and wine, he is an image, a preview, of Christ. His priestly grace is so profound that Abraham is inspired to acknowledge that Melchizedek is greater than him and, as an act of justice, Abraham gives Melchizedek a tithe of all that he possesses.
As a priest “after the order of Melchizedek,” you will now carry this image of the Indigenous and ever-living Christ in your character. Never forget the sensation you will feel when the hands of the bishop and all the other priests are laid on you. You will feel the grace that is given to you, as we will be praying that the Holy Spirit comes upon you to make you a priest. You will never again be the same since you will then be a priest in the church of God.
When I think of a priest carrying the image of Christ the pastor, the preacher, and the priest, I think of Father Moses Mountain. When I was a youth, he was already an elderly Lakȟóta priest from my reservation. He had three tiny congregations and was deeply loved. His small frame, white hair, black clothes and clerical collar could be seen at every church event. He did not have much formal education but he could read and it was so obvious that he knew God. All his life he had cared for his people by teaching and loving them. He presided at the Eucharist at every opportunity.
When I was in high school, Fr. Mountain came to the end of his life. He had been in hospital in a coma for days. One midnight, my father got a call from the hospital that Father Mountain was dying. I went with my father for the liturgy to anoint Fr. Mountain and give him his last Communion. When we got to his hospital room it was filled with his family. I set out the chalice, the hosts, and the oil, while my father greeted the family. When my father began the Eucharist in our language, the unconscious Fr. Mountain joined in saying every word, pronouncing every phrase along with my father and even pausing when he did. Father Mountain was anointed and he took his Holy Communion. He died less than two hours later. To the very end, Father Moses Mountain carried in his person, the image of Christ offering himself with Christ in the Eucharist, preaching, and showing the loving care of a pastor. His Eucharistic radiance showed me that he was truly, “a priest after the order of Melchizedek.”
Christopher, Gillian, and Matthew, may this be so for you, for your entire life. We, your parishioners, your family and your fellow clergy are blessed to be with you this day. You have our love, our prayers, and our blessings, as you become priests in the church of God.