A Dialogue on the Liturgy of Ordination
Rev. Brian Hamer
In C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, old Screwtape, a retired devil, shares his wisdom with his young apprentice, Wormwood, on how to deceive and destroy “the patient” (i.e., the believer). In this spirit, the following dialogue was inspired by The Rite of Ordination in The Lutheran Agenda (companion volume to The Lutheran Hymnal), pp. 104-109. In this essay the rite is quoted verbatim in italics, in alternation with the dramatized voice of Christ in regular print. Although the language from the rite to accompany the 1941 hymnal is somewhat archaic, its timeless yet timely theology helps to answer the question, What is Christ’s message to His pastors in ordination?
[The Lutheran Agenda]: The Ordinator and his assistants shall turn to the Ordinand, who has presented himself before the altar, and the Ordinator shall say… “Thus the ministers of Christ are His ambassadors and as such are to preach the Word and administer the Holy Sacraments…”
[The Voice of Christ]: Today, Pastor, I am installing you at your homiletical post. The word “ordination” hails from the Latin word ordo, which was used most notably in the Roman army. The Roman sentry, for instance, was given strict orders to take charge of his post and to leave his post only when properly relived. Today I am giving you the lawful order to man your homiletical post. You learned from ancient Roman history that, when the official ambassadors of the Roman Emperor delivered an important message throughout the Empire, they reminded their subjects, “It is no longer I who speak, but Caesar; it is no longer I who am present, but Caesar.” This, my pastor, is the plenipotentiary or fully-empowered authority that I confer upon you this day.
Along with this charge, however, comes a solemn warning. The Roman sentry could be executed without a trial for abandoning his post or falling asleep on the watch. Oh, be ever-so vigilant of the theological landscape that surrounds you and your faithful flock! Every theological vagabond is allowed to peddle his bungling ware to the masses, without education or certification in Divine things! Following the trophies of this age, many pastors have abandoned their posts. Theologians of glory, vision-casting leaders, and contemporary worship gurus rule the day and the air waves. Some of them even own their own satellites, equipping them to broadcast their false teaching around the world. You might be especially vulnerable since you sincerely want My Kingdom to expand. Do not believe them or go after them!
Dear Pastor, enter the Office of the Holy Ministry with divine resolve, knowing that you watch and pray with an authority that is not your own (one cannot be self-ordained), but you are bestowed an authority from above. So you may baptize, absolve, and feed My flock with confidence, knowing that you do not preach the Word and administer the Sacraments on your own, but rather, you are entrusted this day with the Means of Grace Office (Gnademittelamt), so that I am present to tend My sheep through you.
Thus the ministers of Christ . . . are appointed to wait upon and serve the Church, which is the bride of Jesus Christ, His mystical body; to offer before Him the prayers and supplications of His people; to feed, to instruct, to watch over, and to guide the sheep and the lambs of His flock, whom He hath purchased with His own blood.
This is all done for the sake of My Blessed Bride, the Church, Dear Pastor. Today, in your ordination, I am tying you to the mast of the churchly boat as you prepare to guide her through rough waters. Satan will send his temptations from all directions, to attack My precious boat from both all sides, in equal yet opposite extremes: Liberalism and Fundamentalism, Roman Catholicism and Pop-Protestantism, and many more. So always be ready to tend to her spiritual needs, even if it means risking life and limb on the stormy seas. Why do you do this? Because the Church, while she may not look grandiose in the eyes of the world, is My Body—not in metaphor, but in reality. As you do to her, so you do to Me. So I am charging you today to feed, instruct, and watch over My mystical Body.
Pastor, I charge you to offer before Me the prayers and supplications of My people. When you officiate at the Divine Liturgy, you are functioning in a priestly role. I speak through you to My people in preaching, and the people speak through you to Me in prayer. I charge you, therefore, to give careful time and attention to your sermons, but also to your prayers. When you visit the shut-in and the hospitalized and say, “We will pray for you,” be sure to follow through and pray for these sheep. The congregation will gladly join you in prayer (“Lord, in your mercy / Hear our prayer”), but it is up to you to take the lead in fulfilling your priestly role in the ministry.
Moreover, I charge you this day to feed, instruct, watch over, and guide the sheep whom I purchased with My own blood. Note carefully these verbs, which are drawn primarily from the Pastoral Epistles of the New Testament. This is the language of the vigilant shepherd, the faithful steward, and the alert soldier. Oh, this may sound pedantic and very basic, but be advised: your temptations to compromise your ordination vow will probably start this afternoon at the cookie and punch reception when Grandma Jones says, “Young man, you remind me so much of my grandson. May I please call you by your first name?” And the temptations to compromise will come at every turn, especially now that you are ordained. Satan knows that he can steal the flock quite easily if only he can kill the shepherd, so you are now in his cross-hairs as never before.
Thus the ministers of Christ . . . are to give themselves wholly to this office, with daily meditation and study of the Scriptures, that they may be able to make full proof of their ministry, being nourished in the words of faith and good doctrine, and showing themselves patterns to others in piety and godly living.
You, pastor, cannot deliver to others what you have not already received for yourself. You will be tempted every day to put other things ahead of daily meditation and study of the Scriptures: property concerns, financial tasks, administrative matters, etc. These all need to be done, but remember as you plan your week that the study of the Word of God comes first. You are the contemplative pastor. You have a study with a kneeling bench, not a corporate office. You have a library, not the latest set of electronics. You are a humble student of the Word for life. If you think that you have mastered my Divine Word, then revisit your ordination vow and consider reading it every day. Let it burn into your hearts and remember that you are My ambassador, under solemn orders, as a Christ-figure to the world.
Moreover, Pastor, you are a theologian, not a secular administrator. You are a caregiver to souls, not a therapist. You are wholly given to the Office of the Ministry as a way of life, including being on call at all times. My Pastors do not have time sheets or punch cards, for you do not “clock in” or “clock out” as a hired hand. Rather, the office which you undertake today shapes your entire existence. And, except in the case of unfaithfulness, you will continue in this office until death parts you from the administration of the means of grace.
Are you frightened, Dear Pastor? “The Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim” includes the following deprecation: “From rashly entering the clergy / Free us, Jesus!” Amen! You are not being rushed into this office today. Rather, you are solemnly ordained into this office for life, as sure as you have been educated in the things of God, certified by the Church, and called by the local congregation. Even as the cross casts its shadow over your ministry, the hidden joy o f life under the cross will only increase. And even if you are given the honor of dying for the sake of the gospel, may you be found a faithful steward of the means of grace.
Go, then, take heed unto thyself and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made thee an overseer, to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. Feed the flock of Christ, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lord over God’s heritage, but being an ensample to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, thou shalt receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. The Lord bless thee from on high and make thee a blessing unto many, that thou mayest bring forth fruit, and that thy fruit may remain unto eternal life. Amen.
Thank you to Rev. Hamer for allowing us to reprint this on the 25th anniversary of Rev. Jeffrey Horn’s ordination.