At the end of each service, with the exception of the services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, we are dismissed by a deacon of the church. At the end of our worship, the deacon steps into her particular role of leadership within the life of the church. It is at this moment that the ways that deacons lead in the life of the church have become most poignant to me, and it is in this moment that our ears need to perk up to hear what is happening as the deacon steps forward.
At this point in our liturgy, we have listened to God’s Word proclaimed, prayed for those needs and persons weighing on our hearts, confessed our sins to God, and shared in the peace that Christ offers to us. We have prayed over bread and wine, and we have consumed the body and blood of Christ. We have traversed a long journey that leads us to a moment that needs a bit of urging and pushing. We have arrived at a moment that we must leave the comforts of the heavenly realities into which we have been immersed. In this moment at the end of our worship, we need someone to lead us out of the comforts of our worship space in order that we might be able to enter into the needs of the world around us. We need a deacon to help us know that we have been called, like Christ, not to be served but to serve. We are called into being agents of love in a world that is hurting and needs the comfort of God’s love. We, quite understandably, need to be pushed out of this place of comfort in order to live into the end – the culmination of being embodiments of God’s love. We need someone to lead us into living out our sacramental lives in the midst of the pain of the world around us, and we need someone there to help us interpret the needs and concerns of the world in order that we might be able to pray for those needs, to lift up the petitions of others around us, and in order that we might hear how God is calling us forward in love to be present to others around us. In short, we need a deacon!
Deacons play a hugely important role in the life of the church. They take vows “to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship” and “to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” (BCP, p. 543) The deacon leads us into the servant ministry of Christ in a myriad of ways. Some deacons do this through a ministry of pastoral care; other deacons are drawn to a ministry of justice and of community organizing; still others are called to practice their diaconal ministry through a ministry of administration in the life of the church. Regardless what flavor a deacon’s ministry takes on, the deacon leads us into a lifestyle of servanthood that is modeled by Christ in Christ’s life.
The dismissal at the end of our worship is a call to the whole of the church to leave a place of comfort and to go out into the world to live out a servant ministry. The deacon leads us into the world in order that the whole of Christ’s Body (i.e. the Church) is aware of the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world. It is at the end of our worship that the deacon appears and beckons us into the world with the words of the dismissal. It is not a moment of celebration, like we might want to think of it. Instead, it is a moment that is fraught with trepidation: we are being sent out like lambs in the midst of wolves (Luke 10:3) to share God’s love. In the season of Easter, the deacon invites our alleluias as we bask in the light of resurrection. At other times, the deacon does not give us that opportunity. No matter what, we are being invited to follow the leadership of the deacon in this moment. In this moment, we are being invited to go into the world to make the love of God in Christ known to all whom we meet. In this moment, we are invited to become servants to the world.