Forty days and forty nights of pounding rain, destruction and an overcrowded ark. Then, a rainbow fills the sky. And Noah was grateful. Forty years of wandering through a hot and arid desert. Then, as promised, a land flowing with milk and honey is on the horizon. And the people of Israel were grateful. Forty days is spent by Jesus in a frightening wilderness tormented by the devil’s temptations. Not giving in, Jesus ultimately claims victory over sin and death by his resurrection. Life wins! And we are so grateful.
In Scripture, the number forty is about journey, transformation and gratitude. And that’s what the number forty is about for me today. A most powerful journey that began on June 3, 1978, the day I was ordained a priest. For forty years my life has been transformed by your lives and the lives of those I have served. For this I am profoundly grateful.
Forty years that have filled me with more blessings than any human being has a right to. Forty years that have led me to say thank you right after I wake up every morning. For forty years I have seen humanity’s goodness win out over the many attempts to destroy it by sin and by life’s painful and tragic events. For forty years I have been invited into your lives and the lives of others at the tenderest moments of despair, hurt, guilt and grief. I have also been invited to celebrate your most jubilant moments of commitment, new life, successes and miracles.
This is the life of a priest. At least, this priest. Called to stand in the midst of the pains and struggles, the joy and gladness that is the human condition and reassure you that you are loved unconditionally by God. And to be reassured by you, that I, too, am loved unconditionally by God.
The priesthood has given me access to some sacred instruments to help bring that unconditional love of God to the Church and the world. The Word of God and the privilege of preaching that Word in hopes that our lives will be touched by its power and hope. The sacraments, with their tangible, touchable signs of cleansing, healing, forgiving, nourishment and commitment. And at the heart of it all, presiding at the sacred banquet of the Eucharist, making Jesus the Bread of Life present as food for the journey, yours and mine.
As I celebrate these forty years, in the spirit of my family’s love of baseball, I offer these words directly from today’s Scriptures that I hope will be for us a kind of holy coaching for our lives in the days, months and years ahead. This is what I ask of you, only this: That you act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with your God, dedicate yourselves to thankfulness and give as a gift what you have been given as a gift.
I am so grateful to you, my bishop, brother priests, deacons, family, friends, co-workers and parishioners for the precious gift you have been and are to me. It is so wonderful to be on this journey of transformation and gratitude with you.
Very Reverend Christopher Smith, rector, Christ Cathedral