Nearly nineteen years ago now I was ordained to the sacred order of Priests in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. On that day, the Very Rev. Lin Knight—a dear friend who, as dean of the cathedral in Hawaii, supported me in and through my discernment process—preached a sermon entitled Bridges. From time to time throughout my ministry, I have pulled out my copy of his words, to remember myself and my calling. Anticipating the ordination of our Associate Rector, the Rev. Stephen Smith, I did so again.
Lin recalled when, in 1989, the Bay Bridge—a primary artery connecting San Francisco and the East Bay—collapsed during an earthquake and chaos ensued. Bridges are essential elements of unity, overcoming separation. God created us one and desires that all of creation live into that unity—which, to be clear, is not the same as uniformity! Sadly, separation, the enemy, seeps into that wholeness seeking to blind us, distract us, fool us. We are fooled into believing that lie, and we live in the ensuing chaos. The illusion of separation makes no more sense than to say that your end of the lifeboat is sinking.
Lin continues, a priest must somehow manage to testify to that essential underlying unity of heaven and earth, while keeping one foot planted in God’s kingdom and the other foot planted firmly in God’s fallen and separated world. A priest is called upon to witness to this unity by celebrating the sacraments, taking the ordinary stuff of earth such as bread and wine or the water of baptism, and elevating them to be also a sign of heaven, a sign that the two realities are really one. The priest in his or her own person is called to be a witness to the essential unity of these two realities…even though at times it will feel like having one foot on the dock and the other foot in a departing rowboat. Priests are privileged to stand with people at the turning points of their lives, just to be there often not able to say anything at all but just to be present, to share, to laugh or cry and somehow to help bring meaning and purpose and a sense of perspective to the immediate situation. In short, to be a bridge.
So we anticipate Stephen’s ordination this Saturday. I had to smile that he is being ordained at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, but is sponsored by his home parish, the Church of the Resurrection, which just happens to be in the East Bay. No doubt he will be traveling over the Bay Bridge at least twice that day—although no collapsing allowed! He is already embracing his bridge calling. And we will welcome him back with joy and thanksgiving into our midst, as an ongoing reminder and witness to the essential unity made known in Christ and to which we are all called.
But we must never forget that while some are called to stand within the community as an ordained priest, to witness in a particular way within the community to this Good News, they are never to bear that work alone. Rather the presence of ordained priests are to remind all of us that we share in the priesthood of all believers. As baptized people we are all called to this work of bridging, reconciling, restoring, healing. It’s risky business and not easy, but we are aided and empowered by the One who calls us to it.
As Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, reminds us, we Christians are in the business of seeing situations where there is breakage, damage and disorder, and bringing those situations the power of God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in order to rebuild something…we offer and bring before God the reality of Jesus which has restored everything. We pray in Jesus that that restoration may apply here, and here, and here. And we offer our own service and devotion as best we can in the bridge-building process.
We pray for the Spirit to enliven Stephen and all of us to a deeper and more profound commitment to this, our bridging work in the everyday-ness of our lives. Here and here and here.
Hope to see you on Sunday.