Yesterday WE the Church made a bishop.
It was something quite ancient - the words and actions go back to the earliest apostles -- to the moment when the 11 - after Judas betrayed Jesus and suicided - called Matthias in Acts 1.
Like those 11, we prayed and cast lots (voted) a few months back after a period of discernment, and yesterday those who hold the same office as the apostles - the bishops - laid hands on a member of the Body of Christ.
When I hold the hands of a bishop, I am reminded that I am holding the hands of a person whose lineage, by way of their call to the role of a bishop, are the hands of those who were closest to Jesus and his earliest followers:
Bartholomew also called Nathanael
Mary and Martha
James, the Lesser or Younger
Jude also called Thaddeus
Matthew also called Levi
Simon the Zealot
Andronicus and Junia
Lydia of Thyatira
Nympha of Laodicea
In some strange way that I know has no historical accuracy, our newly made bishop’s hands are now also the hands of those who have carried some form of apostolic office through the centuries.
At the end of yesterday’s service, I knelt before our newly made bishop and asked for a blessing. At a COVID safer distance, the person who blessed me was no longer just John, but also Mary Magdalene, Peter, James, Phoebe, Archbishop Melissa, Bishop Michael, Bishop Lynn, Bishop Barbara, all those who have held the same office across time.
It is very appropriate that this making of a new bishop takes place in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - after all, we are not individuals disconnected from the Body of Christ -- WE are members of the Body of Christ universal across time and place.
From the very start, I want to say that I don’t really believe the Church was ever one unified entity with no disagreements or differing opinions, interpretations, customs. There was no such thing as a Golden Age of the Church as a single entity. It's unity is to be found in its brokenness.
God, the Word-made-flesh, dwelt amongst us humans and was all too aware of our corruption, sin, failures, individualisms, brokenness that any Body of Christ that was to be expressed in our time and history would always be filled with those things.
It is why the Church must first and foremost be rooted in the death and resurrection of the Word-made-flesh. The Church -- its members and institutions -- must continually return to death and resurrection as a constant cycle of renewal.
And, we must do so as the Body of Christ -- not as individuals promoting our own agenda, worshiping communities wanting to do things the way we want them. We are not individual dioceses who refuse dialogue with other dioceses; nor are we individual national churches who believe that some are doing things the right way and others not. Further, we are not individual denominations that call other Christians heretics, sinners, or forbid any form of communion with another.
We must be the Church universal as an expression of the cosmic nature of what we are -- the Body of Christ -- reaching beyond anything we can ask for or imagine.
This is why I believe, at its very core, in its very essence, the Church is radically queer, turning upside down and deeply problematizing our individuaisms, institutions, and worldly systems even when it itself is all of these.
“Why did God create human beings? What is our ‘purpose’?” asks John-Julian, head of the Anglican Order of Julian of Norwich. “What was God's goal in creating us? It was, quite simply, for us independent human beings to be united perfectly to God -- we are to become auxiliary inhabitants within the Holy Trinity, new persons within the Divine Being. … the actual purpose for our existence as human beings is not just to live moral lives, to be good to other people, and to care for the needy, but to be in perfect one-ness with God. This then becomes the primary agenda, the principal objective of our Christian lives.
If we move towards that one-ness [ with God ], the rest of human and moral life will follow [ -- will flow --] from it.”
Our Christian expression of the community that calls us and holds us accountable to God’s goal in creating us is the Church.
“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”
Our being a Christian, in following the path set out by the Word-made-flesh, is an active answer to God’s call to “Follow me” in which our response must be an unconditional “yes”. The “yes” is an act of death in order that we may be resurrected into the one-ness of God.
“And immediately they left their nets and followed him” And “Immediately … they left their father Zebedee in the boat.”
Simon, Andrew, James and John experienced death in having to leave behind the lives they were living and the world they thought it ought to be and were resurrected in the new community, a new way formed by the Word-made-flesh.
All that we do as a Church must direct us to this one-ness. I don’t get to make individual choices about the Church -- I get to participate in the “WE” that is both working towards and in the perfect one-ness of God.
It is very different from the world that puts the “I” first and foremost.
Yesterday, WE made a bishop -- a member of the Body of Christ who has been set apart by the WE to ensure that WE continue to work towards perfect one-ness.
The role of the local bishop is to point and direct us beyond our individual communities and our individual selves to the Church universal and the one-ness of God. In the absence of the bishop, the priest shares with the bishop this ministry to gather us and point us away from our individualisms and towards one-ness in God.
And should we run faster than other members of the Church, or if we should drag our heels in too deep, the bishop has a wonderful tool - the crozier. One of the symbols of the office of a bishop, this shepherds staff often has a hook on the end of it… if some of us are individually running faster than the WE, then the bishop gently pulls us back. And if some of us are individually dragging our heels in so deep we refuse to budge, then bishop gentry reaches out and pulls us along.
We are on a WE journey towards the one-ness of God. WE have answered “yes” to the bidding of Jesus to “Follow me”. With the help of our newly made bishop, may WE journey on the path set out for us by the Word-made-flesh.
John-Julian, “Julian’s Perfect Prayer” from the newsletter of the Friends of the Julian of Norwich, 2004.