Ministry to Death, Ministry of Life PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter J. Leithart   
Monday, 16 November 2009 13:44

Pastors are specialists in death.  Wherever death is, pastors are: Waiting beside the hospital bed, sharing a couple’s bewilderment over their third late miscarriage, reading Psalm 23 as the earth swallows up the casket.

But the pastor’s ministry to death doesn’t stop with the obvious.  As a marriage disintegrates, as two who have been one split in two again, trust and love die, and it’s only a matter of time before hope too is a corpse.  The Dow plummets, and before they know what happened a couple on the verge of retirement finds a lifetime of restraint and prudence deleted.  A company downsizes, and a man whose identity has been bound up with his work stumbles around to find a new self to replace the one he lost.  A child’s apostasy wounds more deeply than death.

Whatever form they take, crises are deaths, and to this we can add all the daily deaths that flesh is heir to.  Pastors are wherever death is, and in our world death is everywhere.

In all these circumstances, the pastor brings a word of life.  To be a real gospel, good news for a world of death, that word has to be a promise of life on the far side of death – or, more properly, the promise of life through death.  A message of life that skirts the edge of the grave is not the gospel of Jesus because it is not the gospel of the cross.  The word we speak is good news that the Father of Jesus is faithful even to the grave, and yet again faithful.  But it has to be at least about God’s faithfulness to death.

Pastoral ministry has a Eucharistic shape: We offer the Bread of life, but only after the bread is broken, after the blood is poured.  The Bread of life is the bread that proclaims the Lord’s death until He comes.

At the beginning of Matthew’s Passion narrative, a woman pours oil over Jesus’ head (26:7).  It is an anointing, acclaiming Jesus as King and Priest, but Jesus says that it is in preparation for His burial.  Jesus is ordained for the grave, anointed to pass through death and out the other end.

This is the great privilege of pastoral ministry, to follow Jesus into the tombs that litter our world to announce the triumph of life.

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Last Updated on Monday, 16 November 2009 13:51