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Student Readers Commissioned at CITI
Added on Sunday 28th October 2012

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Twelve student ordinands at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute were commissioned as student readers by Archbishop Michael Jackson at the Community Eucharist in CITI on Wednesday October 24.

Those commissioned were Julie Bell (Down and Dromore), Philip Benson (Down and Dromore), Sam Johnston (Down and Dromore), Robert Smyth (Down and Dromore), Alan Breen (Dublin and Glendalough), Cathy Hallissey (Dublin and Glendalough), Thomas O’Brien (Dublin and Glendalough), Alastair Donaldson (Armagh), Cameron Jones (Connor), Catherine Simpson (Connor), Abigail Sines (Connor) and Robbie Robinson (Connor).

The students were presented to the Archbishop for licensing by the Lecturer in Liturgy and Anglicanism, Canon Patrick Comerford and the Lecturer in Missiology, the Revd Patrick McGlinchey. The sermon was preached by the Archbishop. It is reproduced in full below.

The sermon was preached by the Archbishop. It is reproduced in full below.

Sermon preached by Archbishop Michael Jackson at the Service of Commissioning of Student Readers at the Church of Ireland Theological College on Wednesday October 24.

Trinity xx Readings: Hebrews 5.1–10; Mark 10.35–45; St Mark 10.45: For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The Epistle to the Hebrews I admit makes heavy reading and indeed even heavier listening. One of the things – to be fair to it – that it tries to do is to keep alive the connection between the Jesus Christ who was on earth as person of flesh and blood and the Jesus Christ who is a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek in heaven as on earth. This is the oldest order of priesthood in ancient Israel and for the writer of the Epistle the link is important. It offers to this new Christian community the dynamic and active connection of creation and covenant through this very priesthood. It also gives this community to re–invest the best of its past in the on–coming future. There is a strongly developed tradition that such priesthood follows through from Adam and the role of the first human being, as Biblical tradition tells it, in co–creating with God. Ecological awareness is the modern manifestation of this but it pervades the New Testament if we have eyes to see and ears to listen.

Now we really do need to remember that priesthood is not the preserve of the ordained. And we need to do so particularly at the heart of this Theological Institute. If you or I attends an Ordination of Priests it is very clear that the ordained priesthood serves the people’s priesthood. This argument presupposes the genuine existence of such a priesthood of the people, otherwise the ordained priesthood has no role. And so, as we explore this theme in the middle of tonight’s joyful commissioning of those who will be ministers of the love of God in ways new to them, it is always good to have an idea of what we are talking about when we use words like creation and covenant and why they matter. They matter here because the model of priesthood with which the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is working is one which first and foremost defines the public activity of a people, a race, a nation. It is how it does its public work every bit as much as how it does its work in the sanctuary. Creation, therefore, has to do less with productivity or with novelty than with life itself – its nurture, its healing, its relationships, its energy and its fresh directions and, as much as anything, its hope. Covenant has to do with the way people are bound to one another and to God in this hope and also with the responsibilities which these relationships of creativity bring. And, in this way, creation and covenant are part of who God is making us become every day as we live lives of dedicated service in everyday ways.

This, to my mind, is the sort of thread of continuity which the Letter to the Hebrews wants its community to embrace as its entitlement and as its identity. The connection with the earthly Jesus is strengthened by the suffering which Jesus undergoes with us and for us. This priesthood is not, therefore, a wistful looking back to the past – something to which The Hebrews seem very partial, as we read elsewhere in the Epistle – but is a solidarity in the wonderful and terrible combination of suffering and salvation. This is the work of God in Jesus Christ and also our priestly work. We are, all of us, called to be priests in this way and to explore in our everyday lives the possibilities of this sort of life for others.

And it is the theme of: life for others which I really want to share with you this evening. In the life and work and worship of this community, you are being commissioned for your part in what I have just called: life for others. You have given a great deal of time and energy and also personal sacrifice to participate in this programme of training. You are well aware too that it combines personal development with public performance and that this juggling already is not easy. You may be fearful that at times it will get too much for you and that you will not be able to cope. You are not alone in thinking this. And you will cope!

Life for others brings us to one of the most life–giving verses in the Bible, that is, St Mark 10.45:

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many…

I offer it to you for the following reasons. The first is that nobody I know actually knows exactly what it means. This is good, because it means that nobody can reduce it to what they want it to mean and go on to say that this is how everyone else must understand it. The second is that, through service itself, it connects giving and receiving in such a way that new relationships open up for everyone. We are, as I said recently in a quite different context, midwives of God’s glory in human situations. The third is that it connects us with covenant through the word: ransom. And covenant connects us with Old Testament priesthood and with the fullness of God’s revelation and inspiration in Holy Scripture. Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, as presented to us definitively and daringly by St Mark, does no violence to the God of revelation in the Hebrew Scriptures. This same Jesus Christ remains Himself as being what the very first verse calls: the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God (St Mark 1.1)

In many ways you may think that you are only at the beginning of your formal training. The time will pass very quickly because there are so many things you must do and there are deadlines which need to be met and the next deadline creeps us. Please never forget the combination of creation and service as God’s continuing gift to you and your continuing response to God. It is this on which our Commissioning this evening has its focus and from which it derives its strength and its joy.

Hebrews 5.5: So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, You are my Son, today I have begotten you; as he says also in another place, You are a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchizedek.