Holy Trinity, Danville–Luke 1:39-57; Romans 12:9-16b
This is certainly a happy occasion. It’s one that Richard has looked forward to for a long wile now, and, just as intently, it has been looked forward to by the parish family of Holy Trinity. Richard has been part of the life of this community for many, many years. And so he comes to this transitional moment from among you, having been one of you. Tonight is one incremental step in altering the shape of that relationship. On a very technical level, Richard will no longer belong to Holy Trinity; he will no longer be a member of Holy Trinity the way he has up until this point. Rather, he will belong to the diocese and to the whole church. Having come from you, he will now be set apart by prayer and the laying-on of hands, and assigned to you. He’ll be the same person, but the dynamics of the relationship will be different.
Richard has served Holy Trinity for more than a year now as a licensed Lay Pastoral Leader. After tonight, we can’t call him that anymore because he will no longer be “lay.” But the canons prohibit a deacon from being put “in charge” of a Parish. So, Richard, I’m not precisely sure what your title will be for the next several months! What’s important is that you and the people who have been co-laborers with you as members of this parish community, but whose pastor, priest, and leader you will, in due course and God willing, become—you and folks at Holy Trinity can work that all out, I’m quite certain. (Truth to tell, you will not be alone in this canonical limbo; we will have two other transitional deacons functionally, while not canonically, “in charge” of congregations this summer and fall.)
So, we are entering a liminal moment, a season of ambiguity and flux. On such occasions, it’s helpful to be able to talk it through and talk it out with trusted friends, and I’m fairly certain that Richard has already had such conversations, perhaps with his colleagues in the Nashotah House distance program, perhaps with some of you. This is exactly what Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, did when she was entering her own liminal period, when the constellation of her relationships in the world was about to change drastically, in response to the message from the Angel Gabriel, shattering any semblance of stability that she may have known during her growing-up years in Nazareth. Mary went to visit Elizabeth, probably some level of cousin, with whom she was very close. This was Mary’s way of processing what had happened to her, her way of “pondering all these things in her heart.”
We chose this date for Richard’s ordination because because it was in the date range that we needed, and it was a major holy day, and a Marian feast to boot, which is right in the sweet spot of Holy Trinity’s piety, so … why not? That much was quite serendipitous. But as I pondered the readings for this feast day in preparation for giving this homily, I was struck that one could hardly choose biblical texts that are more appropriate for an ordination to the diaconate. While Our Lady was never a deacon in the strict sense, she is the pattern, the template—one could say that she broke the mold—for having the heart of a deacon, which is nothing other than the heart of a servant. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum—“Let it be unto me according to thy word.” Mary gave herself over completely to God and to the will of God. It would mean a great deal of suffering—as she would hear a few months later from the prophet Simeon, “A sword of grief will pierce your own soul also”—but even now, as Elizabeth greets her and she breaks out into song, Mary is able to say, “The Lord has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.” Mary has placed herself in the service of God’s project of upsetting the apple cart of human expectations—the lowly being raised up and the powerful being cast down, the hungry being filled with good things while the complacently wealthy are sent away, the great reversal of the power of sin and death, the restoration of righteousness and justice, of health and wholeness and the conditions under which human life can thrive.
This is an occasion when Richard’s invitation is to inhabit that same moment prepared for him so long ago by our Holy Queen, an occasion to say, “Be it unto me according to thy word,” and to place himself in service of the redemption and restoration that Jesus came to initiate. But this is not only Richard’s night. It’s Holy Trinity’s night, because you have walked with him along this path, and while Richard is the one being sacramentally ordained a deacon, it’s also an opportunity for Holy Trinity, as a Eucharistic Community, to assume a diaconal posture, to be conformed to a diaconal shape, to collectively adopt the heart of a servant toward Danville and Vermillion County. Actually, the significance of tonight may be more lasting for the parish than for Richard. A few months from now, early in 2017, most likely, we’ll come back here and make Richard a priest, and while he will still share the servant ministry of all the baptized, his primary focus will shift toward being a shepherd and a leader, to be the chief word-proclaimer and bread-breaker to this local community of Christians. At that point, he will be canonically “in charge.” But, meanwhile, “all the baptized” who hang their hats here at Holy Trinity will still be called to manifest the heart of the Servant Jesus, the one who washed the feet of his disciples, manifesting the heart of that servant Jesus toward one another and toward those around you who need their feet washed. And all of us together—Richard, the people of Holy Trinity, and those from around the diocese who have come to stand with you in this moment—all of us together can sing with Our Blessed Lady, Our Holy Queen, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his holy servant.”
Richard, my brother, please stand.
Tonight’s epistle reading is an ideal ordination charge for tonight’s occasion. I can’t improve on Holy Scripture, so I’m just going to give it to you as it is, but, even though I’m addressing you, I’m going to leave the plural pronouns plural, so that the Holy Trinity family can eavesdrop, and understand it as their “charge” as well.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.