I love our traditional Anglican (Elizabethan) liturgy, a true artform, but particularly appreciate the processionals and recessionals experienced at grand moments in our church’s history. Yesterday was such a day, a day of ordinations to the priesthood, a day when clergy from all parts of the Northern California assembled at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Oakland. In robes of red and gold and white, these clergy entered the nave of the church, processed up the central aisle, stepping grandly on the crimson carpet, up the steps to the chancel and the high altar. We all sang hymn #220,
“God of the prophets, bless the prophets’ sons; Elijah’s mantle o’er Elisha cast: Each age its solemn task may claim but once; Make each one nobler, stronger than the last.”
Standing in the pews and turning toward the open doors that welcomed the procession, we wove our voices together as one into this sacred event, the ordination of two deacons who had humbly served our parishes for many years. We were all announcing in this form of ritual theater, that a great event was to happen soon. The Holy Spirit was to come upon these men as they made their vows before their bishop. These moments often bring to mind how the Church speaks to us through art – through visual images, through poetic song, through the acting out of these immensely important moments.
The seven sacraments of the Church – Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Marriage, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders – are these important moments in our lives. Therefore they are illumined by the dance of ritual, the steps we have learned through the centuries that create an artful rendering of the moment. Some sacraments are shared with others, but some also are more private, such as penance and anointing.
Holy Orders is the sacrament of ordination, witnessed yesterday at St. Peter’s.
In civic life we see the use of these forms in parades and patriotic ceremonies that bring the community of citizens together. Religious life does the same, with perhaps greater grandeur, providing a place in which we can join together to share the glory of God’s action in the sacrament celebrated.
Ritual allows many to become one. We all know the words and the responses. We know the familiar hymns. We know the creeds. We know when to kneel, to genuflect, to make the Sign of the Cross. This formal structure allows us to speak and sing with one voice, many bodies becoming one. We are a chorus, not unlike the classical Greek chorus.
The beauty of the morning – cold and windy here in the Bay Area – entered our souls. The sights and sounds lingered in our ears and memories. The motions of our bodies centered our hearts upon the actions before us. All of the rituals allowed us to soar together, a congregation of many races, skins, genders, and generations. We were one.
And the two men who lay prostrate before the altar, face down, arms stretched out in the shape of a cross – these ordinands – felt the power of the Holy Spirit descend upon them, as it descended upon us too, like Pentecost. We supported these men in this great offering of themselves. We, the Christian people in the pews, lifted our voices, holding these ordinands in a great wave of love, in offering to the sacred ministry.
And so we sang with one voice… “Come Holy Ghost…” (218). We renewed our own vows: “I bind unto myself today/ The strong Name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same,/ The three in One, and One in Three…”(268) We called upon the Holy Spirit and celebrated our commitment to Christ in the 6th verse of #268:
“Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
Christ unites us as one. The Holy Spirit moves among us, giving us tongues of Pentecostal fire. Division and rancor and distrust has been burned away.
And so we moved to the end of the liturgy, actually two liturgies, Holy Orders and Eucharist, to the Recessional, framing the grand event, the beginning and the ending, allowing us the deep satisfaction of having been a part of its creation, having loved and lived in the harmony of the morning. We sang with all our hearts as the clergy came down the steps of the chancel, entered the nave and moved along the red carpeted aisle to the open doors of the world outside:
“Ye holy angels bright,/ Who wait at God’s right hand,/ Or through the realms of light/ Fly at your Lord’s command,/ Assist our song, for else the theme/ Too high doth seem for mortal tongue…” (600)
It was a holy time, a time in which Our Lord came among us, intersecting time with eternity. It was a time reflected in the intersection soon to come, our celebration of the Birth of Christ, the Son of God, who came among us two thousand years ago. And today, we can say for sure, he lives and comes among us still.
Deo Gratias. Come Lord Jesus, come.