The Rev’d Stephen C. Holton
Christ Church, New Haven
Pentecost 6, Year C
June 26, 2016
Assuming the Mantle
Think about the last job you applied for—or, if you’ve not applied for a job yet, maybe a school application, or any sort of application, really, that you have to wait to hear from. After the application, the screening interviews, maybe a phone call or Skype, additional questions, writing samples, in-person interviews, and follow up conversations, you probably expect at worst a letter saying thanks, but no thanks—or, in the best situation, a phone call saying, Yes, you’re it! We want to hire you!
Now imagine the situation of the great prophet Elijah and his successor, Elisha. Elijah has been told by God to anoint Elisha in his place, but rather than making a phone call, or sending an email, Elijah goes out to look for Elisha—and he finds him tilling the soil, driving a team of twelve yolk of oxen, two dozen oxen—quite a lot of ox power—and to tell him he’s been chosen, Elijah comes alongside the young Elisha and throws his mantle, a big cloak, over him. It might seem strange to our modern ears—imagine if you knew you’d gotten the job when your boss threw his coat over you—but this gesture, the same one from which we get our phrase “assuming the mantle,” means just that—that Elijah is passing his authority, his responsibility, to Elisha—that he has been chosen, he has been named. He is the prophet. He got the job.
I feel a little as though a mantle has been thrown over me—that I am assuming a mantle in climbing the stairs of this pulpit again, and, in just a few moments, standing at this altar. You have chosen me, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, to serve as your priest here at Christ Church, and I am just as delighted as Elisha. It’s a joy to be among you again, and I am grateful to the committees involved in the discernment and search, to the vestry, to the Bishop, and to you for this invitation to be here as your priest.
There is a lot in transition right now. We have lots to work on together in the next few years. We will work together to see how and where the Spirit is calling us--leading us--in ministry and in ways of being that are sustainable and transformative. We’re working on recruiting a new class of Hildan interns for next year. We’ll spend time together in prayer, over meals, in conversation, building community and getting to know one another—and inviting new folks into this community, this part of the body of Christ. We’ll work on reaching out, through Saint Hilda’s, through the Soup Kitchen, through Jerusalem Peace Builders, a ministry among Christian, Jewish, and Muslim young people that we’ll host later this summer—stay tuned for more information about that. We’ll work to reach out across the region in mission as part of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, and we’ll reach out to one another—to friend and stranger—to share God’s love as revealed in Christ.
For that’s what we do—and that’s the thing we seek to keep first--to show the love of God, revealed in Christ Jesus, in the mystery of the sacraments, in the proclamation of the Word, and in love and service to God and neighbor. That’s who we are at Christ Church. That’s who we are as Christians in the world. That’s the main thing—the thing that we are called to do, here, together—the thing that everything else is for.
When I was in Manhattan the parish and the school I served were just around the corner from Mary House, one of the Catholic worker houses that Dorothy Day helped found; Dorothy Day was in my curriculum for a class on Heroic Lives I taught in the high school division of Grace Church School; I received occasionally the Catholic Worker; and the theology and devotion of the Worker movement captured my imagination, even from the outside looking in, serving as a challenge to think about how, as Christians, we encounter and live with our fellow humans, rich and poor, fed and hungry, Christian and not. So I was particularly interested to read an anecdote about Dorothy Day this week that I’d like to share with you.
A young priest came to the Catholic Worker House to say mass, and maybe trying to connect the sacred to the mundane, or maybe just out of necessity, he asked for a coffee cup from the kitchen to hold the wine that would become the blood of Christ. At the end of Mass, after everyone had received, the sacrament had been consumed, the vessels cleaned, the final prayers said, after everyone else had gotten back to the things they were doing, Dorothy Day quietly took the coffee cup, found a garden spade, went out into the garden, dug a small hole, and after a reverent kiss, buried the coffee cup in the garden. She didn’t put it back on the shelf in the kitchen, to be used for the next morning’s coffee, because Dorothy knew that the mug could never be simply a coffee mug again. It had held the blood of Christ. It was forever changed.(1)
You and I are forever changed by the presence of Christ. In our baptisms, in the Eucharist, you and I are transformed, remade, renewed—we are changed—and we become vessels of the body of Christ, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, to bear his love into the world.
And that’s the thing that we are here together to do in New Haven. That’s the thing that we will do together here at Christ Church. We will bear the resurrected body of Jesus into the streets of our city, into the homes of our neighbors, into the hearts of strangers—so that all people may come to know the reconciling love of God in Christ.
Yes, there’s lots of work to do. There’s even lots of uncertainty. Maybe there’s even some anxiety. I am reminded of the difficulties of transitions every time I look at the pile of boxes I still have to unpack. But when I look at the face of Christ, here on the roodscreen; when I look at the sacrament, and receive the Body of Christ; when I look at your faces, you, the Church which is his Body, I am reminded of his resurrected and abiding presence. I am reminded that he will be with us always. I am reminded that we are vessels of the risen Christ.
And when I look along the streets of New Haven, when I read the paper, when I hear of the violence and divisiveness and the hunger and the inequality that infects our common humanity, I am reminded of how hungry the world is to know God’s love—to experience God’s love revealed in Jesus. We are invited to be vessels of that love, to show people Jesus.
Christ has thrown his mantle over you, over all of us. Christ has chosen us. Christ has filled us with his very presence. And Christ is inviting you to follow him, to share his love, with the whole world.
Friends, this work demands our whole selves. Our whole focus. Our whole lives. But it is not ours alone—it’s God’s work, and we are joining in it. Maybe that’s why Jesus says calling down fire from heaven isn’t going to do the trick. That won’t change hearts and minds. And holding onto the comfortable, while it may feel good, won’t bring the kingdom of God near; Jesus wants us to be open, discerning, expectant—looking for opportunity and resurrection everywhere we are. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Lk 9.58) The Christian life is a countercultural one, calling us to change, to question, to stand in the breach and instead of offering brokenness, show people life in Christ. “Lord, first let me go and bury my father,” the young man says who wants to follow Jesus. (Lk 9.59b) But the gospel tells us that holding on to our past selves, our past lives, looking back from the plow isn’t enough. The Christian life, our life as Church, as the Body of Christ together, is predicated on looking forward—to renewal, to resurrection, to new life.
I invite you, I invite all of us, as we come to the altar today, to make of ourselves an offering to God in Christ, through this place, this part of his Body. To take up the mantle that Christ has thrown over us to be his messengers of love in the world. To live without fear in the uncertainty of change and discomfort, because transformation is what we are about—we are changed by, in, and through Christ. And even as we leave behind old expectations, I invite us to look for new resurrection—new hope, new possibility—to see our new lives in Christ—here in this place, here in New Haven, and in the broader world.
Christ has thrown his mantle over you, my dear friends, people of Christ Church, New Haven. The world is crying out to hear of his love—crying out to see Jesus. Will you show New Haven Jesus? We’re equipped for the job—for he has washed us in the waters of baptism. He has fed us with his body and blood. We are filled by Christ, and we will never be the same.
(1) From a homily by Dcn Greg Kandra, adapted and posted at Aleteia.org on 17 June 2016, accessed online at http://aleteia.org/2016/06/17/dorothy-day-and-the-eucharistic-coffee-mug/ (6/23/16)