1 Kings 8:22-30 Psalm 122.1-9
1 Peter 2:1-5, 9-10 John 20:19-21
In the Name of God, for the Love of God, to the Glory of God. Amen.
It’s really amazing how you can repeat the same feast, year after year, hear the same
readings, pray the same prayers, and sing the same
hymns and it is always new.
|Sister Constance Joanna|
“I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of God.” And it is a great gladness every time we come into this place of prayer.
“How awesome is this place” says Jacob in our first reading. “How awesome is this place” the sisters sing. This place is awesome and the feast of the dedication is awesome.
“How lovely is thy dwelling place” we will sing later in the service. And this house of God is indeed lovely.
This chapel is indeed lovely, it is awesome, it is always new, and it awakens our deep gladness. But what is even more lovely and more awesome, what stirs the gladness of my heart even more, is seeing each of you in this chapel – the faces of my sisters, the faces of our extended family – our Alongsiders and Oblates and Associates. And the faces of our guests who come to worship with us. Because as Peter says in his letter, we are called to be living stones, built into a spiritual house on the foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord and God.
It is the community here that is important, and what God calls us to do as a community. There have been times in our community’s history when we have not had a chapel to worship in, when we used whatever space was available wherever we happened to be. Many of the sisters here remember approximately nine years ago, Christmas Eve 2004, when this chapel was still a building site, and we were temporarily living in what is now the Guest House. We each took a candle and walked over to this space, pushing some sisters in wheel chairs, helping along some in walker, so that almost every member of the community in Toronto was able to gather right here, in this space, and sing “Silent Night” by candlelight.
“How awesome is this place,” we all felt. “How lovely is God’s dwelling place” and “how glad we were to go up to the house of the Lord. But it wasn’t because of the building itself or whatever the building promised to be when it was finished. It was because of the people gathered there. We consecrated that chapel in our own way that night as we stood in a sacred circle and sang Silent Night. It was our prayer that filled this place that night, our awareness of the presence of God with us in that moment, in this place.
And in those special moments where we are more than ordinarily aware of the sacred in our midst, we might think of St. Anthony of the desert, whose feast day is today, because it is from the desert fathers and mothers of the 4th century that our vocation as a monastic community derives. Those first hermits went to the desert to pray for a world that was becoming increasingly focussed on values that conflicted with the gospel of Jesus. But they soon found that they couldn’t do it alone. People came to them for spiritual counsel and they offered hospitality. The found they needed the support of other desert dwellers in their prayer, and they discovered that it was precisely among the community and their visitors that they were most deeply and effectively challenged in their own spiritual growth. And they also discovered that some of them were called out of the desert, just as Jesus was, to carry the message of God’s love and mercy to a troubled empire.
And so they developed the four movements of the spiritual life that Jesus modelled, and which are the foundation of our own monastic life: prayer, hospitality, community, and mission. Their chapel was the desert, their communion table a rock, and their music that of the birds and the wind. And out of that beautiful chapel in the wilderness they were sent to found monasteries, establish hospitals, build guest houses, and teach and nurture the young and the old in the ways of the gospel.
And that is really what this feast day challenges me to think about. We are aware of the beauty and functionality of the physical chapel, of the light that comes in the windows, of the music of the spheres that we are part of when we sing or when the organ plays. But what really makes this chapel a sacred place is that four-fold movement of the spiritual life that the chapel nurtures.
It is first our prayer – the prayer of our hearts and the prayer of our common worship.
It is second our relationships with each other – each of us who is present – our awareness that we are part of the Body of Christ and that Christ is here among us.
It is third our welcoming all who want to come into our communion of prayer.
And it is fourth, and most important, what we are sent out to do when we leave this place, the mission that God gives us for the world.
Prayer, Community, Hospitality, Mission: The four movements of the spiritual life.
And that brings us to the very brief but powerful gospel from John, which illustrates all four of these movements.
It is the night of the resurrection. The disciples are huddled together in fear. Jesus has been arrested and executed as a political insurgent and the same thing could happen to them. Guilt by association. Some of them have hear the stories of the empty tomb but probably all of them are sceptical. And then Jesus is there among them.
The presence of Jesus – that is what our prayer is. That is what we long to be most aware of when we come here to worship. Jesus said to the disciples “Peace be with you” and attests to his reality by showing the wounds in his hands and side. Those words welcomed the disciples, and allowed the disciples in turn to be hospitable to Jesusl
The disciples rejoiced. Jesus’ words of peace overcame their fear. His woundedness and vulnerability gave them permission to be vulnerable. And so they could rejoice in the community of each other with Jesus.
So we have the first three movements of our spiritual life – prayer, relationship, and welcoming hospitaltiy.
And the last two sentences of the passage direct us to the fourth movement of our spiritual life. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
The disciples would have to leave that house where they had taken refuge. They would have to go out and be the hands of feet of Jesus in the world. We know that they came together often to worship together, as the book of Acts tells us: “they continued in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.” And then they sent out again, to proclaim God’s love and mercy, to heal and help and teach and preach.
Our community has a mission, and that is God’s mission. Which part of God’s mission it is, at any point in time, changes. And our ministries – that is the ways in which we work out that mission – change. Some of us carry out the mission here, in keeping the house going and all the many creative tasks that happen here each day from cooking to accounting, from sewing to shoveling snow. Some of us carry the mission to St. John’s Rehab, to Victoria, to other places in Toronto and beyond. But this feast of dedication is real a feast celebrating the mission God has given each of us, and the mission we have together as a community.
“Peace be with you,” Jesus said to the disciples and says to us. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD