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?
Today, we observe All Saints Day. Of course, today really isn’t All Saints Day. It’s the Eve of All Saints, All Hallows Eve, or what we have come to know as Halloween. But, because All Saints is a Solemnity, the highest order of feasts accorded by the Church in its liturgical calendar, we are observing it on the Sunday closest to its occurrence.
The origin of this feast in the Western Church dates back to the seventh century when Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all martyrs. Like so many Christian holidays there were connections between dates chosen for Christian observance and earlier non-Christian practice. Earliest observances of All Saints Day occurred in May connecting it with the Roman festival of Lemuria. Only, later was November 1 chosen for All Saints to mark the occasion when the pope presided over the transfer of holy relics in the city of Rome and what was memorialized as a general commemoration “of the holy apostles and all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.”1
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.
Br. Eldridge Pendleton (1940-2015) offered this homily on the prayer of adoration at the Monastery as part four of the Teach Us to Pray series, October 27, 2009.
Exodus 3: 1-15; 1 John 4: 7-19; Matthew 13: 44-53
Remember! Remember that in this chapel we are on holy ground. It is as holy as the place on Mount Horeb where Moses saw the burning bush and encountered God, and for the same reason. In this chapel for over seventy years many thousands of men and women have had equally momentous encounters with God, encounters that have changed their lives in profound ways. Some have discovered God for the first time here. Others, suffering or at life’s crossroads have found comfort and the answers they needed to make major decisions. The walls of this holy place have been hallowed and impregnated by their prayers. Many who worship in this space over time tend to forget its numinous quality, but are reminded of it by the comments of those who enter it for the first time and find themselves enveloped by its holiness. They tell us of the sense of peace they find here. Some even mention their conviction that God is in this chapel. We are on holy ground and should treat it with reverence and awe.
“It’s not about you.”
With those words, evangelical pastor Rick Warren opens his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life.
“The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness,” writes Pastor Warren. “It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Ps. 27:1-6, 17-18
“One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek;
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
To behold the fair beauty of the Lord and seek him in his temple.”
Watching Senator Kennedy’s funeral the other day reminded me of how important it is to have temples. We need places to celebrate great lives—imperfect lives, works in progress we presume. We need places to celebrate ordinary lives—imperfect lives, works in progress. We need places to gather to celebrate life itself and the One who made it all possible.
In our culture, the pressures to be busy all the time are intense. Our own Rule of Life acknowledges we brothers are as vulnerable as you or anyone else to the danger of conforming or adapting to our culture of hyperactivity and stress, of being “on” all the time.i
In the Genesis creation account, after heaven and earth are created, God creates the first sanctuary. Surprisingly, this sanctuary is not a sanctuary of place, but rather a sanctuary of time. God hallows time. “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” ii This is the holiness of time. The Sabbath imposes a cadence of rest and re-creation in the course of all the labor that fills our lives. (I’m drawing here on the insight of the great rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel.) The Sabbath, as a day of rest and a day for abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit for more labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. To be human is not like being a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of one’s work. In the Genesis account, the Sabbath is the final day of creation: “Last in creation, first in intention.” The Sabbath is “the end of the creation of heaven and earth.” iii