On an early morning on a Saturday in early June, my mother was helping me to get dressed. I wasn’t a child; I was thirty-two. My mother was helping me to put on my alb, this alb, because it was the morning of my priestly ordination. The hands that placed the white baptismal garment on me so many years before now helped to place the white garment on me for the Wedding Feast of Heaven. A few minutes later, the Bishop’s Master of Ceremonies knocked on the door of the little room where we were and said, “Mister and Misses Roberts, you may go and take your seats. Deacon, (the last time I would ever be called Deacon) it’s time.”
Only moments later, it seem like only moments I processed into the Church, behind the Deacon carrying the Book of the Gospels. It was as if the story of my life was standing in the pews of the Church. Family from all over, friends from college and beyond, beaming parishioners from my home parish, people from parishes I had served as a seminarian, a crowd of priests soon to be my brothers, and even my pre-school teacher and my childhood babysitter were there. I sat next to my parents until another Deacon called my name. And moments, only moments later, I heard the Bishop say, “Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose this man, our brother Benjamin, for the office of the Priesthood.” I wept and he preached. And then as the Litany of the Saints was prayed over me, I lay prostrate on the Cathedral floor until a voice called me to stand and then to kneel. And then the Bishop, he who holds the place of the Apostle, placed his hands upon my head. In quick succession, all of the other priests joined in the laying on of hands. And moments, only moments later, within the solemn and sacred prayer, the Bishop sang, “Grant to this servant of yours the dignity of the priesthood.” And it is to that moment that Paul invites Timothy to return.
Stir into flame the gift of God that you have by the imposition of my hands. Engage the spirit of power and love and self-control. Be proud of your testimony to our Lord and do not be ashamed of your association with me. And bear your share of hardship for the sake of the Gospel, for your strength comes from God.
Go back to that moment Timothy. Go back to that moment. Maybe your mother Eunice helped you dress that day. Maybe your grandmother Lois, like my grandmother, made a cake for the Apostle’s assistant. Go back to that moment Timothy, burning now not with the fires of eager anticipation, but fueled by the experience of laboring in the Lord’s vineyard. Go back to that moment and be strengthened for this moment.
Most of us don’t have memories of our baptism, but we can go back to that moment too. We can go back to that moment when Christ claimed us for himself. We can go back. Every time we touch the Holy Water as we enter the Church, we return to that moment when water touched us. Every time we make the sign of the Cross we go back to that moment when the sign and power of the cross were made to claim us. Every time we pray the Our Father we go back to that moment when the Father adopted us as his beloved child. We can go back to that moment and be strengthened for this moment. We can go back and we can go forward.
And so my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I who hold a share in the apostolic ministry in this community say to you:
Beloved, stir into flame the gift that is within you by water and the Holy Spirit; engage the spirit of power and love and self-control that God has placed within you. Be proud of your testimony to our Lord and do not be ashamed of our association with each other. And bear your share of hardship for the sake of the Gospel, for your strength, and mine, comes from God. Amen.