Today we begin the Triduum---the three holiest days in the Church year. Tonight people around the world gather to celebrate what has been called the Last Supper Jesus shared with his apostles and disciples; the men, women and their families who had supported him and followed him. The Last Supper has been traditionally seen as Jesus establishing the gift of himself in Eucharist. This is our food for our spiritual journey through life. We know that NO ONE can deny ANYONE this food for our very life. Jesus continued to teach them. Some thought they understood Jesus a little; while many were still confused as to what Jesus was asking them to do in their life. Even Peter himself indicates he does not understand as he says, "You will never wash my feet"!
In the history of our church the Last Supper, instituting priesthood and Eucharist have taken on many meanings. It has been traditionally viewed as Jesus instituting the priesthood and giving authority to the 12 apostles to "do this in memory in memory of me". This concept over time had taken on great embellishments and had moved from a model of being "servants to the community" to "lording it over" the community. Priesthood over time has been lived out in as many ways as there are priests.
I have known since late grade school that Jesus was calling me to priesthood. My understanding of priesthood has evolved with time and living life. I had applied and was accepted to become a Trappist Monk at New Melleray Monastery near Dubuque, Iowa and was 2 years away from ordination. I have been going there for personal spiritual growth for over 40 years. I still find their spirituality enriching however it is a unique calling not meant to be lived by everyone. Some priests find their ministry in the military while others in a religious order with a specific mission perhaps to the poor and the homeless. Other's find their ministry in the University setting. Many serve within the diocesan ministry.
For most of my life time I had thought like many of you here that only men were ordained priests. However I find that I was wrong. There is a fresco painted on the upper front wall of a small chapel in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome. The inscription refers to "Priscilla, Presbyter"-or priest. This is from about 110 A.D. Another fresco in another Cathedral shows a bishop ordaining a woman as priest. Another mosaic was found dating back to 820 A.D. where reference is made of Bishop Theodora.
It seems to me that the early church did indeed ordain women priests and then Bishops. Due to the testosterone level in the church for centuries this information had been suppressed and is only recently surfacing. We as a community are fortunate to have Rev. Kathy and soon to be Rev. Alice with our community. Some who identify themselves as conservative wish to go back to the church the way they knew it---which may be back 50 to 60 years ago. I can be viewed as a conservative and wish to "conserve the church of Jesus and the apostles" which was more inclusive of all people and their call from God rather than being exclusive of some due to their gender or marital status.
Our community of Jesus Our Shepherd is served by 7 priests; 6 men and 1 woman. Yes the evolution of priesthood continues. Jesus spoke of equality and justice. St. Paul tells us there are no longer slaves or free, male or female but we are all one in Christ each given specific gifts to share with the community. I am not sure who is the longest ordained---perhaps Fr. Frank; but the most recent ordained is Rev. Kathy. Each one of us can trace our journey of priesthood from our ordination day up to the present. It would make interesting reading I am sure.
The focus has shifted from the institution of "Eucharist"-----obviously a huge event in our understanding of church. In the Old Testament there were many COVENANTS between Yahweh-as God was called in that time-and the people. Many of these covenants were concerned with following many minute laws of eating, living, washing, etc.
Tonight we celebrate a new covenant which is forever. As Jesus tells us, "Take this all of you and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the NEW and EVERLASTING COVENANT; it will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in remembrance of me". We are to drink of this cup. We are to make this part of our life. The blood of Christ is to fill the marrow of our bones. The blood of Christ is to become the very essence of our being.
This week I had my annual physical. My heart rate was 60. My heart beats once every second of my life. The blood of Christ is within me and coursing through my body every second-every time my heart beats. It is the same for you. Christ through this Eucharist becomes the very life blood of your existence.
When Jesus tells us to "do this" in remembrance of me the "this" is to be a servant of the community, the servant of our families and society. Priesthood is of service. As we hear in the Gospel tonight, as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as the true servant you must wash the feet of one another.
Tonight we priests will once again commit to our priesthood being servants and washing the feet of those coming forth. One of the signs of priesthood which has evolved over time is the "stole". Some of us have been called to priesthood as well as marriage. I now ask those priests present to come forward along with the wives of the priests and for Rev. Kathy the person she wishes to have come forth. We will once again have the stole placed on our shoulders to re-commit to priesthood and re-commit to service to the community.