Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

He was expected to be a priest. From the moment of his birth, from the moment of his conception, he was expected to be a priest; and his family β€” loving the Lord their God with all their heart and mind and strength β€” did everything they could to help him meet those expectations. His parents provided him with education, training and constant support. His siblings encouraged him as best they could. What they didn't know β€” what even he didn't know β€” was that he had a pre-history with God; or better, that God had a pre-history with him. And God's expectation was a bit more "nuanced."

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
...before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you...

I'm talking about Jeremiah. Born with priestly expectations; primed to meet those expectations from the moment of his birth; Jeremiah was pre-formed by God for a more nuanced ministry; pre-equipped by God β€” today we'd say "front-loaded" β€” to more effectively proclaim God's living, life-affirming, life-giving Word in his own time which was radically different from previous
time past.

That's your story, Nicholas, and your family's story too. You all love the Lord your God as they did. You all are committed to serve God and God's people as they were. You all made faith-filled decisions about Nick's formation, education and support as they did for Jeremiah. Yet before God formed him in the womb, God chose him for slightly more nuanced task. God tweaked everything you planned, everything you chose, everything you did β€” as well as everything that happened to you while you planned and chose and did β€” in order to form and shape and equip you, Nick, to meet God's more nuanced expectations for you and your ministry in your own time which is radically different from the times that went before. God has a pre-history with you, just as God had with Jeremiah. God has been forming and consecrating and nourishing you all along the way, just as God had with Jeremiah. Just as God did with Jeremiah, God has been touching you with God's Word, nourishing you with God's Word, filling you with God's Word so that that Word might continuously be before your eyes and on your lips and in your heart.

And what a word God's Word is! It is, first and
foremost, for, to and about us and, despite all the words about yourself you may have heard or believed, God's Word is for, to and about you! It has taken you some time to hear it and recognize it; even more time to believe that this Word of God is not only to you, for you and about you but that it is also God's Word to and for and about all people β€” "God shows no partiality" β€” and that, much to your own astonishment, God wants you; God needs you; God is choosing you and β€” even more to your astonishment β€” Christ's Church wants, needs and is authorizing you to publicly proclaim the amazing Good News that:

Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Not death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come,
powers, height, depth, anything else in all creation β€”
Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

That's God's Word to and for you; a Word you've desperately longed for; a Word you've yearned to believe; a Word you are burning to use. It is the Word Christ's Church wants you, needs you,
and is authorizing you to publicly proclaim so that through the proclamation of God's Word Christ's Church and God's people might freely and fearlessly join in God's word of joyfully transforming the world.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God; nothing! That's the Church's passion. For countless generations, the people of God have believed that it is true; some have staked their lives β€” some have given their lives because they believe this Word is true. But that hasn't stopped some from trying to amend it, supplement it; bind and fence it in. "Nothing can separate us from the love of God?" Well, some have said, not quite nothing; and they've come up with all kinds of "rules and regs," system and procedures and all kinds of stumbling blocks to discourage those aching to believe; to trip up those yearning to be included; to keep out those longing to be welcomed home.

It happened in Jeremiah's day, as an insular, well-off, religious elite captured God's temple, co-opted God's priesthood, manipulating God's ordinances to maintain their life of ease and manipulate or keep out "others" β€” the poor, the
different the people of the land.

It happened in Paul's day, as an insular, insecure, ethnically homogeneous band of Jesus' followers β€” Paul calls them "acknowledged leaders" β€” insisted on painful rites and all-consuming rituals to keep the pure in and the Gentiles out.

It happens time and time again β€” in Luther's time, in my time; it happened to you in this time; and every time this happens God calls people like Jeremiah and Paul; our bishop and me; a pope named Francis today and you, Nicholas, and has given them a pre-history and tweaked their expectations in order to provide a more nuanced ministry for such a time as this. The times are ever changing β€” the "rules and regs," the systems and procedures, the roadblocks and the stumbling blocks β€” they must be changed too. This is your time to do that, so that in the time and places you serve and among the people you serve there will be no question β€” no doubt in their minds, in their church or in their lives that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It's not what you expected; it never really is. You'll weep over the city. You'll find joy in
another's rejoicing. Your heart will break β€” as it already has β€” when you serve someone in pain. You'll need to speak some hard words when you'd rather speak only well and good. You'll love the church. You'll hate the church. You'll sometimes feel lonely, but you'll never be alone.

And, oh, about your expected priesthood? Jeremiah didn't lose his and you certainly won't. Through the priesthood, Jeremiah had connection to all of God's people and access to those who needed to hear God's Word. The same is true for you. For that priesthood became yours β€” indelibly yours β€” at the very moment of your baptism: Through the waters you became one with Christ and through Christ you were made one with these others and so many more, who are not just the people of God, but the priesthood of all believers who together are formed as the Body of Christ. When you stand at this table tomorrow and at every subsequent table at which you preside in the future, you will never stand alone. We will all be there with you equally sharing Christ's priesthood. Indivisible from Christ and from each other, we will be together the tangible, touchable visible embodiment of the Word that has made you, the Word that has formed you, the Word that the Word that calls you and sustains you, the
Word that has raised you β€” beyond your every expectation β€” the Word that proclaims the mystery of faith, the mystery of Church, the mystery of our priesthood together: Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus died to make that Promise true. God raised Christ to make that Promise true. And that is why we joyfully proclaim

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia


Jeremiah 1:1-10; Psalm 95:1-7; Romans 8:31-35, 37-39; Saint John 20: 19-23

Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
in the City of New York