‘We are gathered together to celebrate the dedication of a house of prayer. This is our house of prayer, but we too are a house of God. If we are a house of God, its construction goes on in time so that it may be dedicated at the end of time. The house, in its construction, involves hard work, while its dedication is an occasion for rejoicing.’ (St Augustine)
Last night we gathered as community to begin celebrating the Dedication of our Oratory here at Turvey. In our vigil office we listened to one of St Augustine’s sermons and so many of his words had resonance for me. Since March I have read many posts about the importance of churches being open and the value and necessity of public worship. I follow the arguments and I do understand the real pain that has been suffered these past months. And yet, I wonder if we aren’t being given an invitation to move deeper and to explore Augustine’s words; ‘we too are a house of God’? It’s undoubtedly a challenge to work out just what those words mean for us today.
Augustine can help us with this:
But Christians do not make a house of God until they are one in charity. The timber and stone must fit together in an orderly plan, must be joined in perfect harmony, must give each other the support as it were of love, or no one would enter the building. When you see the stones and beams of a building holding together securely, you enter the building with an easy mind; you are not afraid of its falling down in ruins.
The invitation couldn’t be clearer: be ONE in charity.
Since lockdown began I think we’ve shown that we have a huge capacity for small acts of kindness. We know how to give others ‘the support of love’. Though we may not be able to come together to celebrate the Eucharist, Christ is no less present in those small acts. We ARE those beams and stones, set apart and consecrated to mark the sacred. Our challenge now is bring the peace and blessing that we experience in a church building to every interaction we have.
Our own hearts are the starting place for this work of love. We may feel that the past months have rather dulled our hearts. Low level anxiety and constantly adjusting to new directives can make many things seem uphill. But it is precisely into this dullness that Christ is ready to make his home:
Christ the Lord wants to come in to us and dwell in us. Like a good builder he says: A new commandment I give you: love one another. He says: I give you a commandment. He means: Before, you were not engaged in building a house for me, but you lay in ruins. Therefore, to be raised up from your former state of ruin you must love one another.
There are levels of meaning emerging here as we imagine ourselves forming a building and then Christ as the builder within us. While our outer worlds may be shrouded in uncertainty, we have a chance for Christ, the master builder, to work and transform us from within. We can be more than confident that something beautiful will take shape.
In the weeks to come you may well drive past your regular place of worship and wish more than anything that you were able to gather there with your community. This final thought from St Augustine may just give us a way through this sense of loss:
The work we see complete in this building is physical; it should find its spiritual counterpart in your hearts. We see here the finished product of stone and wood; so too your lives should reveal the handiwork of God’s grace.
The challenge in the coming days is to allow God to work in us and little by little to reveal the ‘handiwork of grace’, wherever we find ourselves.