Witness to a Miracle
By The Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton | January 23, 2020
In a recent sermon, I explained the word Epiphany – the word that applies to the season we are in now. While we Christians associate the word primarily with the remembrance of the wise men who came from the east to honor the baby Jesus, the word was used by Greek speakers to refer to the dawn – the sunrise. It was all about new beginnings.
So it is most appropriate that last weekend, we came together to witness and celebrate yet another new beginning – the ordination to the Priesthood of Fr. Ryan Jordan.
Fr. Ryan’s ordination is more than a ceremony akin to graduation, or promotion to a new job, or even an inauguration. It is a miracle in its own right. Now Ryan didn’t levitate, or become incandescent, or acquire superhuman powers – this miracle was simpler, humbler, and more human than all that. But it was all the more remarkable precisely because it is closer to us, tailored to our scale, and has the potential to touch us. And although priests and Bishops assisted in the service, make no mistake: the ordination miracle is thoroughly the work of God in our midst. But how?
First, because it joins us to the work of Jesus. Jesus saw the conditions of people around him – people who were sick, lost, weary, lonely, weighed down with the cares of the world or feeling empty inside. Moved by what he saw, he drew his closest followers to him, showed them what he saw, and said, “There is a harvest out there, but not enough workers to bring it in.” Then he said, “Pray.”
Then Jesus began to prepare his closest followers to extend his work and even launched them on a mission. He laid his hands on them – a sign of giving them his own authority. And this is where the miracle begins. Jesus ordained twelve to begin with. But it didn’t stop with just twelve. He went on to ordain 70 others, whom he called “apostles”. And after his resurrection, those apostles went into all the world. They, in turn, planted communities of Jesus followers and laid their hands on leaders giving them the same authority they had received from Jesus. This practice forged a kind of human chain, connecting the followers of Jesus in far-flung places to the apostles, and to Jesus himself.
That chain has wrapped itself around the world and has endured through two thousand years – through the rise and fall of empires, through wars and catastrophes, through all sorts of personal failures and moments of great heroism. It has endured in spite of people who misused it, or who have distorted it, or who have tried to redefine and remake it. I suggest that it is a miracle that it has endured at all! And through his ordination, Ryan becomes a link in that living and life-giving chain.
Second, it is a miracle because of what Jesus will do in Ryan. He felt a call to serve God, and, as we know because of his own testimony, this in itself was a sort of miracle. But his call was not enough. He was tested at every step: through commissions on ministry, through seminary, through exams, through bishops and standing committees. He has been certified. But his ordination was not a culmination or achievement. It is not work or degrees, or even gifts or talents, that make a priest: it is the grace that comes from the Lord Himself through surrender. That grace will do its greatest work in the years to come. Ryan will be changed into a priest even while he exercises his priesthood – and this will be a miracle that never ends as he lives into it.
Third, this ordination was a miracle because of what Jesus will do among us all. God is a God of surprises. This was the experience of Isaiah: he was a priest going about the routine that belonged to his office. But suddenly, God broke through and gave him an incomparable view of glory. That vision changed his world, and we still sing his words. He could not know at the time how his work would impact others. We can say the same thing about Abraham and Sarah, about Moses, about David, about Deborah, or Mary or Paul or Philip or any of the biblical “greats.” But it is not just the “greats” who count here. It is every man, woman, and child inspired by God’s word, shaped by grace, and lifted up by hope who will receive the crown of life.
So, let’s all rejoice in this miracle.