Holy Order: Bishops
You will remember that there are three ranks or orders in the Ministry of the Church: Bishops, Priests and Deacons. Today we are going to talk about bishops, but in order to understand what a bishop is, we must first understand what the Apostles were, for it was the bishops who took the Apostles’ place.
The Apostolic Commission
On the first Easter Day, when Jesus appeared to his Apostles in the Upper Room, he gave them what is called their Apostolic Commission, that is, the power and the right to act and speak for him, as his personal representatives. “Peace be with you”, he said. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”. Then Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (NRSV, John 20:21,22). So the meaning of the word Apostle is someone who is sent.
Our Lord, you remember, is the Great High Priest who offered himself as a Sacrifice to God for the forgiveness of our sins in order to bring us human beings back to God, and so, in sending his Apostles into the world as his personal representatives, he also made them his high-priestly representatives. That is why it was to them that he gave, first power to celebrate the Eucharist – “Do this in remembrance of me” – so that in the Eucharist he could offer himself, and bring us with him, to his Father. And secondly he gave them the power to forgive sins – “If you forgive the sins of any”, he told them, “they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (NRSV, John 20:23).