catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 18 :: 2013.10.04 — 2013.10.17


Take thou authority

“Take thou authority, he said through the phone.  I was nervous.  I called my friend and colleague because I’d been asked to celebrate communion at a large gathering of other clergy.  As a commissioned but not yet ordained clergyperson (United Methodists have a long and confusing process), I still looked for a lot of help, clarification and feedback.  I was the new kid, still practicing, and yet to have hands placed on my head by the bishop. 

At the time, I’m not sure I even knew what the bishop would say when her hands finally rested on my head in a coliseum in front of thousands.  But I’m a sucker for liturgy and the ring of those words through the phone was old, inviting and just-ornate-enough to capture my attention and calm my nerves.  Hardcore, Holy Spirit style liturgy and language: Take thou authority.

It reminded me of communion.  We don’t say, “Help yourself to some Christ,” or, “When you’re ready, please serve yourself and be sure to leave some for those coming behind you.”  These gifts are offered, individually, one at a time, to each person who approaches with empty, open hands.  To each and every person the priest says, “This is the body and blood of Christ, given for you.”

This is the body of Christ; take thou authority — declarative, humbling, powerful statements, uttered as if it’s all obvious. 

Sometimes it takes a while to live into the obvious.  We baptized a student in our campus ministry several years back and he was full of questions about how he’d be different afterwards.  Then there’s the scene in the wonderful 90s television show My So-Called Life when two teenage characters are talking and the one who’s had sex with her boyfriend asks the other if she can tell by looking at her.  Many of us expect — or wish for — those definitive before and after events, but they often disappoint.  Not much in the spiritual life works as swiftly and instantly as a light switch.    

My ordination didn’t work that way either.  Some part of me opened up and loosened up the day my friend first said, “Take thou authority,” and I let the words in.  In the years of avoiding my call and in the years making my way through our church’s process, I took on authority bit by bit.  I can point to distinct moments and events, but they’re more signposts along a path than radical detours to new destinations.   

I was prepared, the night of my ordination, to forget all the particulars.  I figured I’d be in such a stupor of nerves and anticipation I’d look back and see a blur.  I’ve been surprised again and again by how precisely I remember it and by how the memory strengthens me.  My emergency phone call wasn’t the only time in my ministry I’ve felt like I needed more than I had in reserves.  In many of those moments I’ve heard the bishop’s voice again, remembered the weight of her hands.  Take thou authority.  When I’m in a loop of self-doubt or I just don’t feel well and wish I didn’t have to get up in front of people and do whatever it is I’m called to do, I remember it isn’t me mustering up some Deborah-flavored authority and neither is it the certificate in my office saying I passed my interviews and papers.  God gave me a gift as I kneeled in the coliseum and, like the living water Jesus promised, it’s eternally replenishing.  

It’s a good thing because I get parched on my own.  When I notice doubt and thirst, I stop myself and remember the moment, remember the blessing conferred and received, hands pressing down on me to make it stick.  I am sent to do this work and the only authority I need is freely given by God.  There’s no questioning that.  Adjust the mantle and go.  Take thou authority.

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