The Ministry: Christ Visible in Us, in Word and Sacrament
Devotional Thought of the Day:
21 At one time you were far away from God and were his enemies because of the evil things you did and thought. 22 But now, by means of the physical death of his Son, God has made you his friends, in order to bring you, holy, pure, and faultless, into his presence. 23 You must, of course, continue faithful on a firm and sure foundation, and must not allow yourselves to be shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the gospel. It is of this gospel that I, Paul, became a servant—this gospel which has been preached to everybody in the world. 24 And now I am happy about my sufferings for you, for by means of my physical sufferings I am helping to complete what still remains of Christ’s sufferings on behalf of his body, the church. 25 And I have been made a servant of the church by God, who gave me this task to perform for your good. It is the task of fully proclaiming his message, 26 which is the secret he hid through all past ages from all human beings but has now revealed to his people. 27 God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28 So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29 To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me.
Colossians 1:21-29 (TEV)
What exactly is ordination? And what is the priesthood it confers? These are questions that were raised again in the disputes of the last few years and for which we must relearn the answer. The Church’s liturgy gives the answer in prayer and meaningful actions, which it outlines beforehand in four questions that inquire into the preparedness of the candidates and thus sharpen their interior awareness of what the priesthood demands of them and gives to them. The last question summarizes, in essence, all the others: “Are you prepared to unite yourself daily more closely with Christ, our High Priest, and to become with him a sacrificial offering for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind?” Although it is not expressly stated, the concept of the eucharistic ministry as the center of the priest’s existence is at the root of this question.
And Thou knowest how far Thou hast already changed me, who first healest me of the lust of vindicating myself, that so Thou mightest forgive all the rest of my iniquities, and heal all my infirmities, and redeem life from corruption, and crown me with mercy and pity, and satisfy my desire with good things: who didst curb my pride with Thy fear, and tame my neck to Thy yoke. And now I bear it and it is light unto me, because so hast Thou promised, and hast made it; and verily so it was, and I knew it not, when I feared to take it.
11 If ordination is interpreted in relation to the ministry of the Word, we have no obligation to calling ordination a sacrament. The ministry of the Word has God’s command and glorious promises: “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Rom. 1:16), again, “My word that goes forth from my mouth shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).
12 If ordination is interpreted this way, we shall not object either to calling the laying on of hands a sacrament. The church has the command to appoint ministers; to this we must subscribe wholeheartedly, for we know that God approves this ministry and is present in it.
The quotes that begin this devotion are from men far greater in intellect than I have encountered. They all point to something here that I have learned is essential to the ministry of those who serve as pastors and priests.
Paul, Pope Benedict XVI, Augustine, and Melancthon all see it, the sacramental union of those who are the church’s servants, those who feed the souls they serve. Those who give a hope beyond anything we can conceive of on our own. The hope that we are beginning to see and comprehend in our lives.
Christ in us.
We may not understand this truth, Christ in us which is our hope of glory! It may scare the heck out of us, it may overwhelm us, but our call to ministry begins in our baptism, when the Holy Spirit marks us as followers of Christ, and dwells with us, even as He does with every other believer. It does unite us to Christ’s cross, not that our sacrifice means anything, but that united to His, we are set aside to a special purpose a special calling.
Not special as in the sense of superior to others, by no means! Special as in the idea of different. For we must realize the brokenness of our lives. And have learned to count on God to work in us, curbing us, taming us, helping us to humbling take a yoke upon us. That question that Pope Benedict asks should be on our minds as we go about our ministry. I am ready to set aside myself, and minister as one united to, conformed to Christ? Is our ministry, by which God is glorified, and mankind comes to be saved by the revelation of Jesus, worth more to me that status, or power, or salary, or even the idea of retirement?
Paul explained it this way,
20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (ESV)
It is this life, this devotion, this transformation that we call sanctification. It is what we call the theology of the cross, where despite it pain, we face out brokenness there and know HIs healing. Healing so wonderful that we are willing to share it all, our brokenness, His healing, the hope of the cross, with others, that God would reconcile them as well. Everyone we lead needs to know this, needs to live it. Where those ordained differ, our lives are this life on display, or should be.
This is the core of word and sacrament ministry, this connection to Christ. It is what happens as we lift Christ high in worship, in our sermons, in our pastoral care. Whether it is a deacon in the middle of nowhere, working under a pastor serving a congregation of 15 or 20, or a pastor of a megachurch, or a seminary president setting this example to those he pastors, who trains the pastors for the next generation. It is what pastors are called to do.
We need to grow to love being nailed to the cross with Christ, rejoicing in the fellowship, and sharing that joy with those we bring to join us at the cross. This is the ministry of reconciliation.
One last thought, Benedict said the place where this is so clearly seen in in the Eucharist, as we take and eat, where fellowship with Christ is seen (1 Cor. 10) and then feed others with it. This is no less than what happens with our sermons, as we speak forth what God has spoken to us.
It is what we are called to, this life in Christ, and Christ in us. Visible in us, to our people, for our people and to the glory of God.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 186–187). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 212). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.