Let’s take a very few minutes to think about what we mean when we say the Lord’s Prayer. I shall use the form of that prayer that we use in our worship here at the monastery, the contemporary form from the current Episcopal Prayer Book.
At the beginning of the prayer we address God as Our Father in heaven. This acknowledges both the way Jesus referred to God, and the way Jesus taught his disciples to think of God as our heavenly Father “by whose Name all fatherhood is known”. (Hymn 587)
I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked. And I know that the other members of the community have also been asked the same question. In fact, I was asked this question once again, just the other day and I was nearly 2000 miles away from here!
When will you be back in the monastery? When will the chapel be open? When will we be able to have services back in the chapel? When will the Tuesday evening Eucharist begin again?
Hebrews 10: 19-25
John 11: 1-44
Well, here we are. Another week – another place of worship! It’s a journey – a journey that gets us deeply in touch with our Abrahamic roots — his nomadic journey from Haran to Canaan, pitching his tent for the night, and then moving on the next day – following the God who calls and leads.
Scripture is filled with great journeys. Jacob’s flight from his brother Esau, Joseph sold into slavery, and his journey into Egypt. The great journey of the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. The journey of the wise men to see Jesus. Jesus’ journey into the wilderness. Paul’s journey from Jerusalem to Damascus. It seems that God loves to invite us to make journeys. Because through the journey God teaches us, forms us, invites us to grow and change into the person God longs for us to be. To become fully who we were created to be.
A few weeks ago I watched a fascinating program on television about the crocodile god of ancient Egypt. The fishermen and farmers along the Nile lived in constant fear of being eaten by enormous and hungry crocodiles. And so temples were built and homage paid to the crocodile god. They made offerings to persuade the god to eat fish instead of fishermen.
That’s the basic idea of temple in the ancient world: a place to appease a god, a place to influence the actions of a god. Although it’s a big theological shift to the temple in ancient Jerusalem, the idea is pretty much the same. Animal sacrifices were made by the thousands year after year to worship the one true God, to influence his decisions, to flatter him with praise and thanksgiving, and to appease his anger at the misbehavior of human beings.
Genesis 28: 10 – 22
Psalm 63: 1 – 8
John 1: 43 – 51
Several years ago I had the privilege of spending some days on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province. It was my first, but I hope not my last visit there. I was there to lead the clergy retreat for the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island during the week and then to preach on the Sunday in Summerside, on the south shore of the Island. Between the retreat and the preaching engagement I had a couple of days to see a little bit of the Island. It was an odd experience for someone who had grown up on the wide open expanses of the Saskatchewan prairie and then lived for a number of years in Ontario where it takes several days to drive from one end of Ontario to the other, to be able to drive from one end the province to the other and still be back at my hotel in time for an early supper, my book and bed.
If you know anything about Prince Edward Island, you’ll know that it is famous for three things: the redness of its soil, potatoes and Anne of Green Gables.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us!
Were you in the chapel on Tuesday, June 29 – our last Eucharist in the chapel before the renovations? If so, you will have heard our brother James’ sermon in which he gave us that unusual but accurate translation of the opening words of John’s Gospel. “And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.” John is reminding us of the story of the Exodus when God accompanied the children of Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. God dwelt among them in a tent – the tent of meeting – at the edge of the camp.
A friend of mine once proclaimed quite forcefully and with real passion that he believed in churches. What an odd thing to believe in I thought when I heard him. I believe in lots of things, but I wasn’t sure that I was prepared to say that I believe in churches. I certainly believe in God, and in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he continues to manifest his presence among us today in the sacrament of the Eucharist and in the gift of the Holy Spirit. I certainly believe in THE Church, that “wonderful and sacred mystery”1 which is “the blessed company of all faithful people”2 as various Prayer Books have described her. But do I believe in churches? That’s a different matter.
When I first heard my friend talk about believing in churches, I wasn’t prepared to go there. Churches after all, were just buildings and having served in a couple of parishes that had some quite wonderful buildings, I know how easy it is to slip from the worship of God, to the worship of buildings. And yet….
For over a decade now, we in the community have been dreaming, and thinking, and praying, and talking about these buildings. It all began one August during community chapter and discussions when we talked about how there must be an easier way to get in and out of the monastery. From there the conversation developed into wouldn’t it be nice if we had…? And what about…? We even talked about the unspeakable: have these buildings outlived their usefulness? Would we be better off selling and moving somewhere else?
Over and over again the conversations ended up here, in this chapel, talking about this place and what it means to us as a community and what it means to so many of you. For many of us, this place is much more than a building; it is a sacrament of God.
One of the reasons why I like going to church, is that I love to people watch. I like to watch people as they come in and find a place. I like to see where people sit, and how some people always sit in the same place. I like to see who comes early and who comes late. (And you didn’t think we noticed!)