Intended signs

Christopher Gilliland wanders away from the central arguments to offer a simpler, more personal justification for his orthodoxy

To me, entering the church is a bit like entering a time warp, the world outside disappears and I enter a place where time is suspended deep within my soul. The gathering together and its prayer put me firmly into that place where the fellowship of Jesus, our Lord, exists and, as I enter his company and that of my brethren in his fellowship, I calm myself and listen to his invitation to confess my failings to keep fellowship in the world with him.

When the words of pardon come, it is my Lord who pardons and says 'stay a while with me.' As I listen to the words of Scripture, it is in the company of Jesus and my fellow Christians throughout the ages.

Truly we are there

I could be on the hills of Galilee or in the streets of Jerusalem as easily as in the twenty-first century. As I respond to the psalm, I feel fellowship with the great Jewish traditions, sharing their failures, hopes and achievements along with my brothers and sisters in Jesus. In the gospel, my Lord speaks to me in that space outside of time, cementing and feeding my faith and my fellowship. My response is the creed and trusting petition, knowing that my Lords presence emboldens me to hope that I will do better.

Together we sit down with our Lord to prepare our supper, to be in that upper room, to celebrate the new covenant in fellowship and to receive the fruits of its sacrifice from the hands of our risen Lord. Then in peace we receive his blessing and empowerment to go back into time, to our own world, full of hope and desire to witness to the covenanted fellowship of faith that has healed our damaged souls and renewed our power to witness.

Portrayal of the perfect man

It is by faith that in one imperfect man, called to be a priest, I see my risen Lord and feel to be in his company. It is by Gods miraculous gift that this feeling becomes true fact. Gods gift given by the means instituted by my Lord, a character on the soul of a man by the imposition of his hands. My Lord chose men to receive this mark, for in the service of the earthly fellowship, it is they who can show most naturally the link with the risen Lord. Men who are imperfect, but by grace become the hands and voice of the Risen One. In themselves they are a sacramental sign of what our Risen Lord is saying and doing when the fellowship gathers under the new covenant. Imperfect men stand for the perfect man and priest.

The value of simple signs

Now to God all things are possible, and he most certainly could make an imperfect woman the sign of a perfect man and priest, but why would he? Why would God, who designed humans to be men and women, want to confuse the genders in his signs? In every sign that God gives, bread, wine, oil, etc., he chooses the most natural sign so that we poor mortals can follow our faith in a reasonable and straightforward way. We do not munch artichokes as the sign of Our Lord's body and we do not drink vinegar as the sign of his blood.

This may be a bit simplistic, but what I mean is that God makes the signs do the job in the most effective way; a way that does not involve complicated leaps of faith or beliefs contrary to the nature that he put around us as signs of his well-ordered care, which only sin has disrupted. The priest, as the ultimate sign of the risen man, Jesus, is most effective when he is a man because in him we can more easily and naturally see and experience, by miraculous gift, our risen Lord as we walk in his company and receive his gifts.

I hope that all who read this simple view will respect my faith even when they disagree with it. In no way do I say that God does not call both men and women to serve, but in line with what they can most naturally and reasonably become the sign of, in the best service of the faith. As St Paul holds, we are all equal parts building up the body of Christ as one.

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