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Diaconal Ordination of Shane Spellmeyer and Jonathan Totty

Eve of the Annunciation, Springfield Cathedral

There are a number of metaphors, a number of ways of accounting for what we’re doing this afternoon, what this liturgy, this “work,” is about. The one I’d like to place before you is that of an unveiling ceremony for a work of art, the sort of occasion where family, friends, and other interested parties gather to literally see the wraps taken off a work of art that they’ve known has been in progress for some time, but has not been available for public viewing. This liturgy is the unveiling of a work of divine art that has been “in progress” for a very long time, since before either Jonathan or Shane were born. (Now, for purposes of full disclosure, I should warn you, lest you be disappointed, that, in the case of these two, the artwork will remain partially veiled still, even when we’re finished with what we’re doing. That last bit of veil will come off in about six months when they’re made priests.)

“A body you have prepared for me”—we heard that phrase twice a few minutes ago, first Psalm 40, then as Psalm 40 is quoted extensively by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. “Body,” I would suggest, can be read here as a euphemism for “life”—a life you have prepared for me. A life you have prepared for me—both the basic fact of life, the fact that Jonathan and Shane exist, that they inhabit this world, and also the course of life, the particular shape and contour and character that their lives have taken and will take. What’s happening this afternoon is, by any measure, a major—I would venture to say, even, huge—a huge flex point in the course of both of their lives.

Today begins a period of liminality, a double-hinged period of transition. Shane and Jonathan assume the persona of what used to be called “clerks [clerics, we would say now] in holy orders.” That word “persona,” from which we get, of course, “person,” has some interesting connotations. It’s the Latinization of the Greek work prosopon, which denotes, literally, the mask that a Greek stage actor would wear, something that was readily recognizable to the audience and would immediately indicate what character they were portraying. From now on, Jonathan and Shane wear the mask of “clergy,” even when they don’t feel like it. The old English expression for the parish priest—parson—refers to that same mask, that same unending role to play. If the two of them don’t find that just a little bit sobering, they’re probably not paying attention!

But, just as a marriage service does not create something that didn’t already exist, but recognizes and celebrates something that is already real, an ordination doesn’t confect something from nothing. Rather, it unveils something that has been taking shape for a very long time and is now ready to be seen. The ceremonial questions and answers of this ordination service are the way we mark the moment—the formation of these ordinands has reached the point where we can say, “Behold, clerics! Behold, parsons! Behold, deacons!”—and then ask God through prayer to bless and ratify that recognition. Jonathan and Shane are, each in himself, living sacraments of God provision of holy order for his church. This liturgy is the making public of that ongoing fact, like the voice of God the Father at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” The rubrics of the Prayer Book prescribe that I hand each of them a Bible, and inform them that they are now authorized to be listened to; the people of God are, in fact, obligated to listen to them. Again, sobering.

And so, Shane and Jonathan come to the altar of God with the refrain of the Psalmist on their lips: “Behold, I come to do your will, O Lord.” As quoted in Hebrews, this line from the Psalm is a prophetic reference to Jesus, who, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” Of course, as we are celebrating the feast of the Annunciation tonight, there’s another level of meaning we can see. We can hear in it an echo of the response of Our Lady to the angel Gabriel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word.” As Jonathan and Shane come under the hands of the Apostles in a few minutes, represented by the hands of the Bishop of Springfield, they will be echoing those words of the Blessed Virgin: “Be it unto me according to thy word.”

In a few moments, Jonathan and Shane will both solemnly testify that they believe it is indeed God’s will that they take this step. This assembly has already voiced its concurrence with that discernment. We will pray. We will lay hands. We will clothe them as deacons. And then we will put them right to work and tell them (I could say “ask,” but the reality is, in their case, I get to tell!) to set the table for the sacred meal we are about to enact. Before we leave the room, one of them will, with diaconal authority, admonish us to “Go in peace,” under their servant leadership, “to love and serve the Lord.” They will have begun the period of passage until, in God’s good time, we remove the veil entirely and show them to be priests.

Shane and Jonathan, please stand.

It has been, and continues to be, my joyful privilege to walk with you through this phase of your journey. I profoundly regret that circumstances have not allowed us to retain one or both of you in the Diocese of Springfield. But the Diocese of Northern Michigan and the Diocese of Dallas are on the same team, and as we “pay it forward” by sending you off to labor in those mission fields, we do so in the confidence that, as we have sown, so shall we reap. The good and gracious God who is using you to take care of his people in those two places will use others, whose names we may not now know, to take care of us. So, go. We send you. Represent us well. Preach the gospel in season and out. Care for the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the elegant and the unwashed, the erudite and the illiterate, the fervent and the faithless, those who “get it,” and those who are manifestly clueless. We plant you. Find good soil and be fruitful.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

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