Chrism Mass & Renewal of Ordination Vows, Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives” (Lk. 4:18).

We come back this year, at this Chrism Mass, to our Gospel reading from Luke, conscious that this is the year of Luke, when we will be reading from his Gospel in the long season after Pentecost. We don’t even have to wait that long, however, to feel his influence, for we’ll hear from him in Eastertide in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s “Part II” of the Gospel that chronicles the story of the early church. If Matthew is the traditional “Gospel of the Church,” the only Gospel that mentions the church, then Luke is surely the Gospel writer the church hears more from, year in and year out, in our lectionary.

St. Luke has his own story to tell about the ministry of Jesus. He’s the Gospel writer who gives us the text of Jesus’ sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth, from the prophet Isaiah, with its announcement that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. Luke has a clear sense that Jesus stands in the prophetic line, and that his ministry is driven by the Holy Spirit. The Isaiah text announces the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic age. The Gospel writer keeps hammering away at these points, connecting Jesus’ ministry to the prophets before him, and to the animating power of the Spirit.

A consciousness of the power of the Holy Spirit is fitting today, as we consecrate the holy oils at this Chrism Mass. This oils will be used in anointing the People of God, for healing from illness (in the Oil of the Sick) and for preparation for baptism (in the Oil of Catechumens), as well as in the Chrism oil that anoints the newly baptized. God the Holy Spirit is at work in the sacraments and sacramental rites of the church, giving grace and power and propelling every Christian forward in mission and ministry. All the baptized stand in that succession; each of us is empowered for ministry by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel is also fitting as the ordained among us renew their vows. Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth, and its text from Isaiah, is driven by two powerful verbs that color his ministry. It is, first of all, a “good news” ministry. Where St. Mark or St. Paul understand “good news” or “gospel” as a thing, St. Luke (rooted in the Isaiah text) understands it as a verb. Our translation doesn’t make this clear, turning the verb back into a noun, probably because “good-newsing” isn’t a word we use in English.

Luke’s usage, however, has a kinetic quality that is true to the calling. “Good-newsing” or “evangelizing” (which is, of course, a word we do have) was what the angel Gabriel was doing when he brought the message to Mary (it’s the same word in both cases). It’s the good news of what God was doing, in bringing to birth the promised Messiah. The good news is not something static but interactive, something that needs to be shared, to be performed, to be enacted. It’s true to Jesus’ ministry and it’s true to ours. Gospel ministry gets us moving.

By the time we get to Acts, and the ministry of Jesus’ followers, Luke’s using the same word to tell the story. We’re “gospeled” and then we “gospel” others, and the content is Jesus the Messiah himself. The “evangel” is meant to be passed on, from us to others and then on again in turn. Gospel ministry always requires the same “yes” that Mary gave to the good news: a yes on our part, and a yes on the part of those who follow.

Jesus’ text from Isaiah also contains another key word: “sent.” The verb used here has a noun form, apostle; but again, the word as we encounter it in Isaiah is a verb of movement. Jesus is sent by God, propelled forward by the Holy Spirit like the prophets of old; and we in turn are sent by Jesus, filled with the Spirit who comes from him. The apostolic nature of Gospel ministry isn’t a settled quality, but a breathless sending forward, by the wind that comes from God. It’s a missionary word, which moves us from where we are to where we need to be in ministry.

As we approach the sacred Triduum, and the liturgies that fill these days, let us bear in mind that we’re engaged in good news ministry, and that we are sent into the world. The good news is interactive; will be shared, performed, and enacted this week, and the power that will inform it is the power of the Spirit. May those who preach it and proclaim it, like the prophets of God, be propelled forward by the Spirit, and may we who hear it receive it as the good news it really is.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee