Welcome to Lent, Reader. I sort of have to say this to welcome myself; I’m having a hard time situating myself in days and times lately. I think it’s because I have a few too many things going on (well, always, but now in particular) that bleed into each other and cross the days and seasons without care for anything but their own deadlines.
Choosing schools is rough, yo.
But we persevere, and despite the fact that I forgot both that today is Friday and that it’s the first Friday of Lent (hello, innocent turkey sandwich that totally triggered all of my childhood Catholicism but only AFTER I’d eaten it…sigh) it is indeed Friday in Lent.
I think part of the reason (besides the Million and One Things) I’m so disoriented is that both Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday were super weird for me this year. Normally Mardi Gras is a festive gathering with a few friends eating muffalettas and listening to crazy swing jazz and then Ash Wednesday is a whole drawing in of myself, almost literally preparing for the wilderness. Both days had those usual elements, but in entirely new ways.
Mardi Gras was a kids musical and a pancake dinner at my church (I know, we’re getting all Episcopalian up in here). It was great, but it was a day of so much people and meetings and class and craziness. It was also somewhat unhelped by the fact that people kept coming up to me after the show to ask what my part had been, utterly flabbergasted that there would be a church event in which I was just another congregant. I’m not terribly comfortable with the idea that this expectation has been created that I’m essentially staff; I don’t like that church, in many ways, has become somewhere I cannot simply be. I realize that’s the direction I’m headed with the career, but I hadn’t intended to arrive there quite yet.
It was an evening of all sorts of unexpected ministry moments, really, which is what I bring to you. I like doing a loose series for Lent, if only to keep myself from wandering too far into the desert (but sure, also to learn to see thematic connections for when I’ll be doing sermon series. You have to know I’ve been practicing on you, Reader, and that I appreciate you letting me). So this Lent I’m taking the awareness that I’ve been walking away from the sacred in favor of focusing only on the profane (in the sense of mortal, earthly) aspect of things and I’m using this series to walk through the sacraments.
I’m going to have to cross denominational lines for this (no, say it ain’t so!) because we United Methodists only recognize two sacraments and there are a few more than two Fridays in Lent. So I’m reaching back to my Catholic days (or, more likely, my medieval theology semesters) to pull forth the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.
Still with me? Good, because I want you to understand that I’m not going to give you a lecture on the sacraments for forty days. I’ll let you know what’s what, for sure, but I want to see where I see these holy things in my own life—outside of the box, as it were. So what even is a sacrament? It’s a ritual of the Church considered to be of enough significance to be seen as a foundational aspect of charting holiness—literally “a sign of the sacred,” sacramentum. You don’t have to do all seven to be faithful, of course, but they’re sort of the compass points of the thin places where we brush against God. Steer by these.
So, week one? Holy orders. Of course, right? This takes on a different shine as the Catholic sacrament because it means only the official, professional ministry within the Church, so only baptized, unmarried males can make it to this sacrament.
But I am no longer Catholic, so I can broaden this. Although I lose track of it a lot, I do firmly believe in the concept of the ministry of all believers—yep, you sign on to the Jesus train, you too are a minister. (Don’t worry, I won’t make you come to seminary with me.) And this shows up in the most quotidian places; I spent almost half an hour talking with a teenager friend of mine on Mardi Gras because she is freaking out about becoming an adult and she needed someone to say that’s okay, you’re not wrong to do so, God will be with you in adulthood too even though you’re going to make the wrong choices sometimes (a lot). It was incredibly humbling, that unexpected pastoral moment, but it reminded me quite forcefully that ministry doesn’t wait for official sanction.
I will not be in ministry after I finish school; I will not be in ministry after I can wear an elder’s stole (although I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty excited about building that collection some day); I will not be in ministry after the United Methodist Church has a bishop lay hands on me; I will not be in ministry after I am appointed to my first church. I am in ministry right now, because God is not bound by our rules. Holy orders are a sacrament, a sacred thing because they are indeed orders that are holy; they are an invitation to us as the people of God to get involved in this Kingdom-building nonsense, to get our sleeves and stoles dirty in the day-to-day honesty of ministry. We are all of us called to this, to these holy orders; we are all of us called to this place of the sacred wrapping its arms around the profane.
So holy orders for me are talking with that teen. They are a young woman opening several sets of doors for me and learning my name. They are me buying doughnuts for my office mates. They are Magister empowering a friend to stand on his own in teaching the faith. They are that friend teaching the faith. They are the friends who stand with Hopeful in the tempestuousness of having a newborn. And they are all the many ways, Reader, that you shine the reflected Light in your world.
And [you] yourselves, as living stones, are being built up [as] a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5, LEB)