Chrism Mass

Springfield Cathedral

“I have found David my servant, with my holy oil have I anointed him.” So we sang repeatedly just a few minutes ago in the refrain from Psalm 89.


My servant.

In 2009 I had the privilege of visiting the tomb of King David in Jerusalem, on the holy hill of Zion—in legend, the site of Mt Moriah, where Abraham offered Isaac in sacrifice, up to, but not including, actually using the knife that was in his hand.

Yet, we know David, don’t we? You know—David the sexual exploiter, David the adulterer, David the murder.

Yeah … that David.

In this cultural moment, he would surely be subject to cancellation, and any statues of him pulled down. In any place but Jerusalem, the sign marking his tomb would be removed during the middle of the night.

Yet, we remember this same David as “a man after God’s own heart.” He was spontaneously anointed by the prophet Samuel at his father’s home in Bethlehem, after being unexpectedly hauled in from tending Jesse’s flocks. The literal meaning of the Hebrew word “messiah,” which finds its way via Greek and Latin into English as “christ,” is “anointed one.” So, David, in that moment in Bethlehem, was a proto-messiah, a proto-Christ. From his house and lineage came Jesus, the Christ.

I have found David my servant, with my holy oil have I anointed him.

Our work, our “liturgy,” this morning, is to bless oils, oils that will be used for the anointing of God’s people.

The Oil of Chrism, from which the Mass of chrism gets its name, is used in the administration of Holy Baptism. Most of you know that I wish we had a church culture in which it were normative to use not ounces of water but gallons of water in baptism, and enough oil to utterly ruin an heirloom baptismal gown instead of just a dab on the forehead. After all, when we’re talking about an invasion of the Holy Spirit into a person’s life, sealing and marking someone as Christ’s own forever, bestowing forgiveness of sins and raising them to a new life of grace, doesn’t that deserve some appropriately awesome accompanying symbolism?

The Oil of the Sick—this is how we sacramentalize God’s default disposition toward health and wholeness. God is the God of life and health, not the God of disease and death. Of course, we live in a “time in-between”—between, that is, the conquest of death that is secured in Christ’s resurrection, and the fruition of that conquest, when every knee bends and every tongue confesses Jesus Christ as Lord. We are still subject to the effect of the realm of sin and death.

Now, God’s tactical plan for dealing with this, this time in-between, is two-fold: First, there is miraculous healing. It happens. I’ve known it to happen, and you probably have too. Disease disappears in ways that can be clearly correlated with prayer and the ministry of healing, but for which medical science has no explanation. But, as we know, this is the exception rather than the rule. So, we have the opportunity, in every case, to offer our sickness and disease to God, to put them at God’s disposal as tools that he can use to exploit our sickness and suffering for the purpose of advancing his kingdom. I firmly believe, and have always taught, that God does not send us sickness and suffering. Disease is never part of God’s will. But God is not above piggy backing on suffering that’s going to happen anyway in order to make himself known and call us to faith. I’ve seen this happen in amazing ways over the years among people entrusted to my pastoral care.

So, the Sacrament of Unction, anointing with the Oil of the Sick, is the sacramental means by which we consecrate a particular illness to God’s loving providence, to use as he sees fit, to make himself known, to call us to himself, to propel us on in the direction of holiness. Sometimes this leads to the remission of disease. But in every case it leads to healing—health of mind and spirit, if not always of the body. In every case it creates a space for God to work wonders in our lives, and in the world—wonders greater than we can ask or imagine.

I have found David my servant, with my holy oil have I anointed him.

My brothers and sisters in ordained ministry, our vocation is messianic. Like David, we’re flawed; we’re earthen vessels—perhaps not in all the same ways that David was, but, in the end, does that really matter? We are flawed, but we are ourselves Anointed Ones. In the western Catholic tradition, and in Anglo-Catholic dioceses like the wonderful Diocese of Springfield, one of the pieces of the rite when a priest is ordained is for the Bishop to anoint the hands of the new priest, and those of you whom I ordained had your hands anointed by me. And even though deacons are not presbyters, they still, I would suggest, share generically in the priestly character of ordained ministry.

So, we are anointed ones, messianic ministers whose lives are precisely for God’s Anointed Ones, the baptized faithful who have been anointed with and by the Holy Spirit, and whom the scriptures describe as a “kingdom of priests to serve our God,” drawn from “every family, language, people, and nation.” Our joyful privilege is to lead them in their messianic ministry, a ministry in and for the world for which Jesus died and was raised to life again.

And, of course, the ministry we share as those in Holy Orders, and the ministry of the baptized laity among whom we live out our ordained ministry—all of this happens in the context of following the Anointed One, even Jesus our great High Priest, the one to whom all messiahship is configured. All our anointings—in baptism as we are given the Holy Spirit, in Holy Unction as we consecrate our illnesses to the providence of God, in ordination as we are consecrated as icons of Christ the High Priest—all our anointings find their fulfillment in him through whom all things were main, the author of salvation.

I have found David my servant, with my holy oil have I anointed him.


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