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This afternoon, I will have the privilege of participating in the ordination of a friend from college who will be serving a congregation near Pittsburgh. And not only do I have the privilege of participating, but I have the privilege of actually leading the prayer of ordination at the service. My friend wanted the prayer to be extemporaneous and to conclude by calling the congregation to pray a printed prayer together. I can do extemporaneous.  But I’ve learned from experience that when a prayer has a specific purpose, it can’t be entirely extemporaneous.  Prayers such as those we use to consecrate the Eucharist, or prayers or ordination come out best when the person praying still follows an outline of specific points.  So, I set out on a mission to figure out what these key points should be for a prayer of ordination.  Here’s what I found.

1. In the Presbyterian Church, the Prayer of Ordination is done on behalf of the whole Presbytery.  In other Christian traditions, it is the Bishop who performs the ordination and prays this specific prayer.  In the Presbyterian tradition, the community of pastors and elders known as the Presbytery functions as a corporate bishop.  So rather than one person laying hands on the person being ordained, all ordained people come forward and lay hands on.  The person praying the prayer of ordination prays on behalf of all of them. This is also why I will initiate and lead the prayer, but it will conclude with a unison prayer. All that said, I will begin with an acknowledgement that we are gathered together as representatives of the whole Church.

2. In the Catholic ordination prayers which I read, the prayer of ordination begins by recalling the offices which God has established for ancient Israel and the Church throughout history. This is similar to our Eucharistic prayer which usually begins by recalling God’s faithfulness to Israel up to the time of Christ.  Because the person being ordained is being set apart to function in a similar way, the ordination prayer acknowledges the models of priestly ministry which have gone before: Moses and the seventy elders, Aaron and the priests (Exodus 24). Ultimately, all those ministries pointed forward to the high-priesthood of Christ, so this portion should conclude with thanksgiving for the ministry of Jesus Christ who is both the Priest and Offering reconciling us with the Father in a way no human ministry could (Hebrews 7:26-28).

3. But we don’t thank God only for ordained ministry.  The Holy Spirit gives diverse spiritual gifts throughout the Church, so many prayers of ordination acknowledge with thanksgiving the variety of spiritual gifts present in the Church, including apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers (Ephesians 4:11). “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

4. Then the prayer gets specific: In all Christian traditions, this prayer calls upon the Father to send the Holy Spirit to fill the person being ordained, so that the person ordained will be able to faithfully exercise the ministry to which they’ve been called.  And notice how the Book of Common Prayer describes that ministry:

May he exalt you, O Lord, in the midst of your people; offer spiritual sacrifices to you; and boldly proclaim the gospel of salvation; and rightly administer the sacraments of the New Covenant. Make him a faithful pastor, a patient teacher, and a wise counselor. Grant that in all things he may serve without reproach, so that your people may be strengthened and your Name glorified in all the world.

Anyone in the Church can proclaim the gospel, teach, or counsel. The one thing that is unique to ordained ministry is the administration of the sacraments. The entire reason ordained ministry evolved in the life of the Church was to ensure right administration of the sacraments. So, the prayer of ordination should draw attention to the sacraments of Baptism and The Lord’s Supper, and also ask God to fill the ordained person with whatever gifts are necessary to administer the sacraments faithfully.

Today I have to deal with someone who I frankly do not like. This is unusual. There are very few people in the world who I simply dislike.  But for some reason, I’ve had an allergic reaction to Person-I-Don’t-Like ever since we first met.  It’s a visceral averse response: I get physically anxious, my heart rate jumps, my head starts to hurt.  When I consider the fact that Person-I-Don’t-Like has a history of not being honest with me, I become disproportionately angry at Person-I-Don’t-Like. I generally do not have enemies, but Person-I-Don’t-Like feels like my enemy.

This morning at Upper Room’s staff meeting, I even used the word “hate” to describe how I feel about Person-I-Don’t-Like.  Josh, our seminary intern, wisely responded by pointing to the passage of Scripture we’d just read together, and on which I’m preaching this Sunday: “Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:14-15 ESV). Ouch. I’m as good as a murderer. Thanks be to God for seminarians who preach Truth to pastors. My irrational hatred of Person-I-Don’t-Like was a testimony to the sinfulness of my own heart. Lacking love, I abide in death. And, in Paul’s words, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

Obviously, the answer to Paul’s question is Jesus. But how will Jesus deliver me from the hatred of my brother? A few verses later in 1 John, we read a line that I think answers that question.  “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him” (3:18-19). Notice the repetition of truth in those verses. Jesus is Truth. Those who are “of the truth” in 1 John are those who are “of Jesus.” And those who follow Jesus display that they are “of the truth” by loving in truth. To love my enemy, I have to love him in truth. And I can only do that if I stop and ask, What really is true in this situation?

When considered in that light, this situation provides a beautiful example of the healing power of dedication to the truth. By stopping to ask what is really true, I calmed the anxiety in my heart and body, increased my concern for my enemy, and articulated a way to move forward. Let me demonstrate:

First of all, what’s really true about Person-I-Don’t-Like? He’s never been deliberately malicious toward me. He has not always been honest with me, but that’s no excuse for me to respond with hatred or dishonesty in return.  I also know from past conversations with Person-I-Don’t-Like that his life is not easy. The stress of his own life adds a dimension to our relationship of which I’m normally unaware. As the adage goes, “Hurting people hurt people.” Of all people, I as a minister should know enough to look beneath the surface and ask why Person-I-Don’t-Like behaves the way he does.

Second, what’s really true about me in this situation? I don’t know what causes my averse response to Person-I-Don’t-Like.  It’s not entirely rational, happens with no one else, and that alone should give me pause. On top of that, my reaction toward the prospect of dealing with Person-I-Don’t-Like is always overblown. When it comes down to the real facts of our situation, there’s no good reason for me to respond the way I do to this person.  The truth here is that I’ve let my anxiety get the best of me. There’s nothing to fear.

Third, what’s true about the current situation of conflict? It was caused by miscommunications for which we’re both responsible. It’s also caused by neglect of certain duties, for which we’re also both responsible. Person-I-Don’t-Like may have been dishonest with me in the past, but I have no right to hold that against him, given my inability to love him in truth. If miscommunication, irresponsibility, and dishonest were the roots of this conflict, then I should seek restored communication, fulfillment of responsibility, and honesty as a way of resolving this conflict.

And finally, who is my true “enemy” in this situation? My own irrational anger, the anxiety I feel, and the negative consequences of destroying this relationship are all greater enemies than Person-I-Don’t-Like. If 1 John is right, my sin of hatred itself is an enemy of eternal proportion, while Person-I-Don’t-Like should be relatively innocuous.  Maybe this encounter with Person-I-Don’t-Like is actually an opportunity to learn to love? It’s already becoming an opportunity to learn to practice living in the truth, and for that I should be grateful.

In John 3:21, Jesus says his followers “practice the truth”. Practicing the truth means going deeper than the surface-level debates about who’s right and wrong.  It means living with an entire orientation toward truthfulness in life. And I believe a deeper practice of the truth can lead to genuine reconciliation and love between those who have been enemies. By calling us to practice the truth, the One who is Truth delivers us from this body of death into life and love. Thus John can say, “we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love . . .” (1 John 3:14).

I’m on vacation right now. But for my spring vacation, I chose to attend the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College. Yes, it’s a conference, and perhaps not the first place others might choose to spend their vacation.  But it’s truly feeling like a vacation for me, not least because the theme of rest keeps coming up.

Yesterday, I attended a workshop by novelist Carey Wallace about the connection between rest and creativity. Then this morning, I went to hear Ann Voskamp, who spoke also about the importance of slowing down in order to be creative. Both Wallace and Voskamp identified fear as an obstacle to rest and to creativity. As I contemplated these things this afternoon, a poem emerged. It’s the first poem I’ve written in months, partially because I haven’t slowed down enough until now. Here it is:

Slow to See

For those who slow to see, all this globe is glass to God. – Ann Voskamp

we are slow to see,
slow to perceive, so
seeing we do not see
and hearing we do not hear.
slow.
and dumb.
muted by the speedy rush
hustle, chatter, and noise,
we are wordless
when called upon
to speak words or Word.
all too quick to look
to ten thousand distractions
and not to one truth
immediately present.

we must rest.
rest to hear the unforced thought
to receive grace which grasping cannot grab
we must slow to see
slow down, pause, linger.
fear not the quiet
fear not the stillness
fear not the Stranger
who approaches, who speaks, who shines
to those who slow to see.

Tonight at sunset – 7:50pmUpper Room will begin its Easter Vigil service. I say begin because it’s actually the first part of a service that doesn’t completely end until the conclusion of our 11:00am service on Easter Sunday. Not only is it part three of the Triduum (see below), it’s also parts one and two of a four-part Easter celebration (see further below). This may merit some explanation, so, let me explain. (Note also that this explanation is also the fruit of what my co-pastor Mike explained to me earlier in the week.  He’s turning me into a liturgy geek.)

If you’ve never been to an Easter Vigil service before, you may be surprised when some of the language tonight speaks as though Christ has already been raised from the dead.  That didn’t happen till Sunday morning, right? Well, the women found the tomb empty at sunrise on Sunday morning, so technically it would have been sometime during the night that Jesus was raised.  And who would have witnessed this? The angels. We join in worship tonight with the angels, seeing the events of Christ’s passion and resurrection through their eyes.  So, our liturgy for tonight will include part of the Exultet, a centuries old hymn which proclaims the resurrection beginning with the angels: “Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, / and let your trumpets shout Salvation / for the victory of our mighty King!”

Easter Vigil is the third service of the Triduum, the series of services including Maundy Thursday and Good Friday which in effect constitute one long service. There’s no benediction at the end of any of them. And each of the services is fully aware of the events of the whole week. On Maundy Thursday we included songs about the cross and speech about the resurrection in the service.  This is because (as Mike explained to me) we’re looking at the events again through the eyes of the angels. We know the good news about how the story ends.

Now to the four-part piece of information: The liturgy we’ll use tonight is a combination of Anglican and Presbyterian liturgies, with some traditional, contemporary, and home-grown music added to the mix.  In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer’s liturgy for Easter Vigil, there are actually four parts to the service.  While I think they would normally be celebrated together as one long service, we’re breaking things up and allowing people to go home and sleep.  The parts are listed below, as we will celebrate them tonight and tomorrow morning.

1) The Service of Light – Sunset was the beginning of the next day for Judaism and for the ancient Church. So as we mark the transition to Sunday, we also will light the Christ candle again, signifying the return of life to Jesus’ body.  We’ll sing a modern version of the ancient hymn Phos Hilaron (“Hail Gladdening Light”) and process into our worship space, where we’ll read the Exultet.

2) The Service of the Word – After the Exultet, the service of the Word begins. Most of the service tonight will consist of long readings from scripture, followed by space for reflection and singing.  The scripture passages recall God’s faithfulness throughout history from creation to the promise of Christ. It’s meditative, and joyful in its simplicity.  This is becoming my favorite service of the entire Church year. When it ends, you’re free to go home and sleep.  The service continues at sunrise.

3) The Service of Baptism – This will be our sunrise service at 6:50am near the Blue Slide entrance of Frick Park.  We will sing, we will read the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom, and then we will have a renewal of baptismal vows.

4) The Service of Eucharist – 11:00am at Upper Room. Our normal Sunday worship service will conclude the celebration of Holy Week, complete with Eucharist, celebrating our union with the risen Christ.  Though this may feel like the “big” Easter service, it’s really the big conclusion and celebration of the worship which has continued throughout the week.

Today is Maundy Thursday.  It’s the day  when we celebrate Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples, His mandate (Latin mandatum, the root of our “Maundy”) that they love one another as He loved them (John 13:34), and his agony of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Tomorrow we will remember His crucifixion. And then on Sunday . . .

As Lent draws to a close, I’m reflecting again on the purpose of this season of spiritual discipline.  I’ve finished reading The Ladder of Divine Ascent, a book which many other Protestants would find overbearing in its calling to practice asceticism and its advice to grieve and mourn for our sinfulness. So it begs the question, Why do this? Why practice such severe disciplines? Why even practice the meager disciplines I adopted personally this Lent? When John Climacus wrote this book in the seventh century as a manual for monks, he gave it 30 chapters, or steps – one for each year of the hidden life of Jesus before His public ministry.  It strikes me now that the final three steps correspond well to the holy days we’re presently celebrating – Jesus displays the virtues of the highest steps of The Ladder in the events of Holy Week. And that provides a hint of an answer to the question at hand: The purpose of all our spiritual discipline is to conform us to the image and likeness of Jesus. May this final reflection on The Ladder will show forth the image of Christ in Steps 28-30.

Step 28 – On Prayer – For the first time in this journey through The Ladder, I found advice in this chapter which matched something I was taught in youth group. I remember being taught to pray using the “ACTS” pattern: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. John Climacus advises a similar pattern, with thanksgiving and confession before supplication:

Heartfelt thanksgiving should have first place in our book of prayer. Next should be confession and genuine contrition of soul. After that should come our request to the universal King. This method of prayer is best, as one of the brothers was told by an angel of the Lord (page 275).

Yes, he says that method of prayer was revealed by an angel. That should be a signal that prayer is much more serious than any youth-group lesson ever indicated to me. The next paragraph drove home the seriousness of what’s happening in prayer:

If you ever found yourself having to appear before a human judge, you may use that as an example of how to conduct yourself in prayer. Perhaps you have never stood before a judge nor witnessed a cross-examination. In that case, take your cue from the way patients appeal to surgeons prior to an operation or a cautery (page 275).

This imagery suggests both a reverence and an urgency which are uncommon in many of the prayers I both pray and hear prayed. From John Climacus, as from other Church Fathers, I get the sense that if we had the faintest sense of God’s holiness, we would approach the Lord with more deliberate and mindful prayers. Climacus uses the image of an earthly king to stir our hearts to attention. If we knew we had an audience with a king or president, we would surely prepare our words in advance and give the king our full attention. So Climacus writes,  “Those of us wishing to stand before our King and God and to speak with Him should not rush into this without some preparation . . .” (p. 274). But reverence is shown better through simplicity and honesty than through pretentious language:  “Pray in all simplicity.  The publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single utterance. . . . In your prayers there is no need for high-flown words, for it is the simple and unsophisticated babblings of children that have more often won the heart of the Father in heaven” (page 275).

Mark 14’s account of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane actually displays these characteristics of prayer. Jesus begins His prayer, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for you” – an expression of both intimacy and reverence, combined with an acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty and power. Jesus’ prayer continues: “Remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what you will” (v. 36). His request is simply stated and yet displays a submission to the Father’s will. Jesus presents Himself honestly and wholly to the Father, “distressed and troubled” and “grieved to the point of death” (vv. 33-34), but His adoration of the Father is pure, His request simple, and His submission total. Step 28 presents a challenge to, as the hymn “Go to Dark Gethsemane” says, “Turn not from His griefs away; [but] learn of Jesus Christ to pray.”

Step 29 – On Dispassion – Dispassion is the state of freedom from the passions, the sinful compulsions and vices which were addressed in so many earlier steps of The Ladder. Climacus says,

A man is truly dispassionate – and is known to be such – when he has cleansed his flesh of all corruption; when he has lifted his mind above everything created, and has made it master of all the senses; when he keeps his soul continually in the presence of the Lord and reaches out beyond the borderline of strength to Him (page 282).

The dispassionate person has a mind set on “the things of the Spirit” in contrast to “the mind set on the flesh” which is “death” and “hostile toward God” (Romans 8:5-7). He has put to death the deeds of the flesh so that he may live (Romans 8:13). In this sense, the death of Christ is the supreme display of freedom from the passions. Having accepted the Father’s will, Jesus’ mind was set entirely on the things of the Spirit, enduring and transcending the sufferings of his flesh. This is why Climacus can describe dispassion in the same terms that Paul used for being united to Christ’s crucifixion: The dispassionate person “no longer lives himself, but it is Christ who lives in him (cf. Galatians 2:20)” (page 284). In order to live in freedom from our sinful nature, we are called to embrace the cross of Christ. To quote again the hymn “Go to Dark Gethsemane”, ‘It is finished’ hear Him cry, learn of Jesus Christ to die.”

Step 30 – On Faith, Hope, and Love – These three virtues are at the top of the ladder, but Love is the greatest (1 Cor. 13), and the one who loves shares in the divine life because God is Love.  But such resurrection into Love always follows death to the world, and Climacus continues to speak about dying to the world throughout this step. Reverence is an essential aspect of Love, as well: “The growth of fear is the starting point of love” (p. 288).  Fear and love are two sides of the same coin, so Climacus can say without contradicting himself “Lucky the man who loves and longs for God as a smitten lover does for his beloved.  Lucky the man whose fear of God is in no way less than the fear of the accused in front of a judge” (p. 287).  I can’t help but see the two natures of Christ in this quote. Fully God and fully human, Jesus embodies both the divine pursuit of humanity and perfect human reverence of the Father. Revering the Father as humanity ought, “He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety” (Hebrews 5:7).  In God’s love for humanity, Christ pursued His Beloved with love “as strong as death” (Song of Songs 8:6). His love and his reverence continue at the right hand of the Father where he ever lives as “a merciful and faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:17).  And this dual-nature is what we are called to aspire to live into: a reverent love which both pursues union with God and seeks to intercede on behalf of all creation before Him.

So why go through the season of Lent? Because we want to dwell in love that unites us with God. In His great love, Christ has sought us out and suffered to bring us to union with Him. Let us reciprocate God’s Love and aspire to such heights by patterning our lives after His. As Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Amen.

I’m really looking forward to the next few days in the life of our Church. This will be the fourth (yes, fourth!) Holy Week that The Upper Room has celebrated together since we ventured out on this journey of planting a new congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Each year our worship together grows richer and deeper, and I believe that God will continue that trend this year. Here’s the full slate of services, borrowed from Upper Room’s website:

At Upper Room, we have a tradition of transitioning from Lent to Easter with a full set of Holy Week services that the Church has called the “Triduum” – a set of three services, which is actually considered one long service of worship over the course of three nights. Here’s a schedule of this year’s services, with a little bit of background on each. Each service (except for the sunrise service) will be at 5828 Forward Ave. and will last about 60 minutes.

Maundy Thursday – Thursday April 5 @ 7pm
This service is the celebration of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples before his crucifixion. This service will include an “Agape (Love) Meal.” We ask everyone to bring a contribution of bread, fruit, cheese or veggies to share. We’ll also celebrate Communion together.

Good Friday – Friday April 6 @ Sunset (7:50pm)
This is the service remembering Jesus’ death on the cross. This service will include some extended readings of Scripture and silence at the end to meditate on Jesus’ death for our sake.

Easter Vigil (part 1) – Saturday April 7 @ sunset (7:51pm)
This service is the oldest known holiday in the Christian church, and is designed to move us to Easter by reflecting on the mystery of the resurrection and recalling God’s faithfulness to his people by reading several Old Testament stories.

Easter Sunrise Service / Easter Vigil (part 2) – Sunday April 8 @ sunrise (6:51am) in Frick Park.  Go to the Blue Slide Entrance at the corner of Beechwood and Nicholson. (weather permitting)
While many Easter Vigils actually last all night, our will be “paused” a little before 9pm and resume with our sunrise service the next day on Easter morning. This service will include the reading of the Easter story and a renewal of our baptismal vows.

Easter Day Worship – Sunday April 8 @ 11am
And of course we’ll be celebrating Easter Sunday at our normal Sunday morning time as well!