Monday, March 7, 2011

In the Stead and by the Command

"Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen."

These words are heard (from the pew if that is your vocation) and spoken (from the font/chancel if that is your vocation) every Sunday.  Either way it's the same Jesus saying the same words through His appointed Office.  The disciples - and the church for that matter - are never the same after Jesus breathes His holy, life-giving breath on them (John 20).  These words came to mind last week as I sat with the family of one our dearly beloved members who had died.  That was at 9:08.  The Lord who breathed the breath of life into Adam is the same Lord who breathed on His disciples is the same Lord who called Merlin home at his last breath.  I got there at 9:15.  To paraphrase Gandalf, a pastor is never late, he arrives precisely when he means to.  Or better yet, precisely when the Lord sends him.  And that is where I found myself.  Merlin no longer needed ministering - he was with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven - but his family did.  Then absolution came to mind: "in the stead and by the command." 

One of my seminary professors said (several times thankfully) that the pastor should be the first person the grieving family sees when they arrive at the church and the last person they see when they leave the graveside.  Amen, I say.  Those little words, "in the stead and by the command," extend far beyond Sunday morning, after the entrance hymn and before the introit, to the nursing home, to the bedside, to the graveside, to the home before and after the funeral, to those rejoicing, to those mourning to the very last hour, even when you're waiting for the mortuary to come until midnight.  This Good Shepherd, the Bishop of our souls, He places men into this Office to shepherd, to teach, to preach, to hear and to speak precisely the words given to him to say.  For behind every repent, take eat, I baptize, I forgive you... we hear "in the stead and by the command."  He who hears you hears me.  The breath of Jesus continues to give life - to pastors and parishioners alike. 

So, don't think this is just some post by a pastor for pastors.  Congregations, and people - priests in the pews; Jesus delights in calling, sending, placing, ordaining, breathing on His people through His pastors, no matter what time of the day (or night), no matter what the occasion (good, sad, happy or mad), no matter how much you might think it is an inconvenience or "not a good time," no matter how insignificant you might think it is to call your pastor to be with you, to sit, to pray, maybe even just to listen - it couldn't be further from the truth; for a pastor is called precisely where Jesus means him to be.  Jesus loves being held to His promises.  And that's what I learned last Thursday night.

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