I would like to start by saying what an honour and privilege it is to be here to preach at Jacqueline’s first Eucharist. Thank you for inviting me.
I thought this morning that I would talk briefly about various aspects of priesthood, through the lens of John the Baptist. Now, I know that John the Baptist wasn’t a priest but the last of the prophets, so please do indulge me.
I think that through the character of John the Baptist we can gain an insight into four of the attributes of priesthood: the call to repentance which is of course followed by the act of absolution; the call to bring people into the sacramental life of the church; for John this was through baptism, for priests following the death, resurrection and ascension this has meant baptism and celebrating or presiding at the Eucharist and, perhaps, most problematically the call, like John the Baptist, to act as a prophetic voice, calling the people of God to act like the people of God, whilst simultaneously daring to speak truth to power.
If I were a participant in the Radio 4 show ‘Just a Minute’ I would have been buzzed out of contention by now, for repeating the same word over and over again. That word is ‘call.’ Jacqueline like, I hope, all priests didn’t choose to become a priest; she was called, by God, to this joyful yet challenging and unsettling state we call priesthood.
Priesthood can often feel strange, us priests can frequently feel as though we are in the ‘wilderness.’ Sometimes it can feel as though there isn’t really much solid ground beneath our feet; priests you see frequently stand in the breach between God and his people. Jacqueline is going to spend much of the rest of her life feeling as though she is the ‘wilderness,’ not knowing what she really should say, or could say. But, the really good news is that although this is true she will, like John the Baptist, become ‘strong in spirit.’ God will give her the words to sing salvation's song with humility, pointing away from herself and towards Jesus.
My hope is that Jacqueline will become strong, or stronger, in spirit simply by living out her priesthood; by being a person committed to calling people into repentance and then giving the life changing gift of absolution, by celebrating the sacraments and, by continuing to speak prophetically; daring to say those things which might occasionally be unpopular, challenging or disturbing always in the interests of a more Christ-like church and, a more godly world. All of this must of course be underpinned by a deep commitment to prayer, for it is through prayer that character grows and we slowly, but surely, grow into the image of Christ. It is through prayer that we begin to realize that it is character rather than mere competency that makes the compelling difference. It is through prayer that we become living icons for Christ.
So what of you, and your relationship with Jacqueline and indeed all priests?
Maybe I have already given the answer: to commit through prayer and the quality of your relationships to help Jacqueline, like John the Baptist, who was so nurtured by his parents Elizabeth and Zechariah, to grow and become stronger in spirit, so that she, and all other priests can, live out our priestly calling.
One last thought: if you commit to praying for Jacqueline, perhaps asking in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, that she may be ‘endued with righteousness’ and be blessed by the ‘healthful Spirit’ of ‘grace,’ you too will change and grow in Christian character and, as we all grow together we become what the New Testament describes as a ‘royal priesthood,’ or the ‘priesthood of all believers,’ or even a ‘Holy Communion,’ of God’s people; we become God’s partners in achieving the breaking in of the kingdom ‘here on earth as in heaven.’
Jacqueline today our prayers are with you as you preside at the altar for the first time. Our prayer for you is that you may throughout your priestly ministry build authentic Christian community by leading God’s people to repentance, absolving them of their sins, and feeding them prophetically through word and sacrament.