Thursday, May 15, 2014

Why is it a big deal when the Bishop comes to town?

Whenever a guest visits a church, we are called to love and greet that person regardless of who they are.  We are commanded and strongly urged to do this by God's Word in several places:   "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." (Heb 13:2). Elsewhere, Jesus himself tells us that when we welcome a stranger, we are welcoming him.  (Matt 25:35, 40)  And on the flip side, we are warned against showing favoritism, that is, greeting certain types of people more warmly than others:  "My brothers,show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:1–5)

So, we must welcome every guest, regardless of whether we like them or not, whether they are like us or not.  We love everyone who comes into our doors, whether they are "big hitters" in the community or not.  Every man, woman or child who comes to our church is made in the image of God and therefore has value and worth greater than we can imagine.  

When the bishop visits our church, however, he is not a guest.  Indeed, he is not really visiting our church.  He is visiting his church.  (Truth be told, he is visiting Jesus's church, and Jesus has given him care of that church.)  The bishop is our pastor, and the local priest is his "deputized" representative.  (See Titus 1:5 and the letters to Timothy for biblical examples of bishops).  It's not unlike when parents leave for the weekend and put the oldest sibling in charge.  When the parents come back, the oldest kid goes back to being a kid.  When the parents return, they're not guests because it is their house.  Everyone celebrates their return, and the right order of things is set.  So, when our bishop comes, he loves us and cares for us, making sure we're all growing in the faith once delivered to the Church.  In the ancient church, bishops were around more often and this was not a big hurdle for anyone's understanding.  In our day though, when we have fewer bishops and when our bishops preside over larger geographical areas, we tend to forget whenever the bishop comes, it is sort of a homecoming.  And this is a reason to celebrate! 

Another reason why we make a big deal of the bishop's visit is because of what he symbolizes in his office.  Bishops are the "successors of the Apostles" and as such, they are a "sign of the church's unity in Christ."  (quotes from the ACNA Constitution and Galley's The Ceremonies of the Eucharist, p 200).  The Scriptures talk about the apostles being the foundation of the Church (Eph 2:20).  It is from the apostles that the whole Church has spread, and it is the apostle's teaching that all true Churches seek to teach and follow.  If bishops follow the doctrine of the apostle's, they are living symbols of this common foundation that all Churches share.  Thus when our bishop preaches the Word and celebrates Holy Communion in the service, we are reminded that is this same Word that all of Jesus's Churches teach and live, and it is this same Table that all of Jesus's Churches gather around.  We are reminded by the bishop's presence that we are just one small part of the world-wide, eternal Church.  THIS is a great and profound thing! And we celebrate that when the bishop comes!  

So, whenever our bishop visits, remember what we celebrate.  We are acknowledging and celebrating the order and authority and shepherding that Jesus's has given his Church, and we are remember and rejoicing in the unity that Jesus gives his whole Church.  The bishop is a sign that Jesus cares for his Church, for you and for me and all our brothers and sisters.  

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