The Order of Worship for an Ordination and Installation service of any of the three offices in the RCA (Deacon, Elder, and Minister of Word and Sacrament) promulgates that: “By the Holy Spirit all who believe and are baptized receive a ministry to witness to Jesus as Savior and Lord, and to love and serve those with whom they live and work.” (emphasis mine) It’s a kind of generic exhortation, that all the baptized are called to love. Yet in the context of ordained church leadership, one could hear that they especially are called to love. Participating recently in the ordination/installation process of all three offices I took some time to study over the liturgies, formularies, and government of the RCA and locate the role that love has, specifically to one who is like myself, a Minister. So for instance, in our ordination/installation liturgy, the Minister or candidate promises in the formulary declaration “to walk in the Spirit of Christ, in love and fellowship within the church…” and later in the charge to the minister: “Love Christ: feed his lambs, tend his sheep. Be an example…in love…” The Book of Church Order states that along with preaching and teaching the Word of God, administering the sacraments, and sharing the responsibility with elders and deacons in leading the congregations, the minister “exercises Christian love” (BCO 1.I.1.4). You get the gist. Christians are suppose to love, you know, that “thy neighbor thing.” And it would seem, especially we would expect our ministers to love.
I suppose this homing in on the love issue is in part because today is Maundy Thursday. I had learned in high school Latin class that Maundy was in reference to the Latin word for commandment, mandatum. Jesus says, as recorded in John 13:34-35: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
It’s not really the love thing specifically that I’m thinking about today, however, as much as what comes with it, grief.
The cliché gets repeated often enough, “seminary never taught you that” fill in the blank. There is simply too much that seminaries are expected to prepare you for, that I don’t expect them to do it all. And anyway, I’d rather blame my seminary education for other things…
But it is nevertheless true, I wasn’t prepared for the grief. Oh, sure, we got training in pastoral care. And boundaries. Family systems. Clinical Pastoral Education. Etc. And probably we could all use a good therapist. Yah, yah, yah, but I’m not talking about any of that explicitly.
And sure, ministers certainly aren’t the only ones who are called to love, and thus, to deal with the grief that goes with it. I’m not trying to say, “look at me!” Nor am I complaining about it. I suppose I’m just stating the fact, there comes a lot of grief in ministry.
A couple weeks ago I was visiting a parishioner in the hospital, a beloved member of our congregation who has battled with cancer for decades. She was an immigrant to this country, came here with little and accomplished much, the American dream. Yet she has lost two husbands to cancer. Still, she raised four children, very well I might say for they have grown into wonderful adults. She has embodied strength and courage, grace and dignity. After praying with her as I have done on so many occasions and leaving the hospital I found my eyes quickly “got glassy.” By the time I was seated in my car I was weeping. Weeping not just for her but for many.
This has been an especially poignant season of Lent for our little church observing directly five funerals in that many weeks, and indirectly two more. And again, don’t misunderstand me; I’m not talking about a “dying church.” While we are indeed an urban congregation in transition, we’re generally pretty vibrant, working things out, growing and changing in the process. But all that said, we are grieving. And I their minister am grieving too.
Which leads me back to where I started, and that is about ministers being called to love. When one loves, one will eventually grieve. That’s not a bad thing. But during a season of Lent where the weight of grief has been palpable I am finding comfort in the entire journey of Holy Week, looking forward to the hope and assurance of Easter, but allowing this Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to have their own fullness as well.
I don’t have any good transition to end here other than to say I have always found Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son very meaningful especially the following expert. And especially on Good Friday.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are those who mourn.” What can it mean? One can understand why Jesus hails those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, why he hails the merciful, why he hails the pure in heart, why he hails the peacemakers, why he hails those who endue under persecution. These are qualities of character which belong to the life of the kingdom. But why does he hail the mourners of the world? Why cheer tears? It must be that mourning is also a quality of character that belongs to the life of his realm.
Who then are the mourners? The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is no one blind and who ache whenever they see someone unseeing. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one hungry and who ache whenever they see someone starving. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one falsely accused and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who fails to see God and who ache whenever they see someone unbelieving. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who suffers oppression and who ache whenever they see someone beat down. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one without dignity and who ache whenever they see someone treated with indignity. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is neither death nor tears and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death. The mourners are aching visionaries.