Br. Scott Borden, OHC
Feast of the Dedication of our monastery church, October 4, 2014
|The chancel in the St Augustine church at Holy Cross Monastery|
Of course, back when this church was dedicated that sentence would have read a little differently – how awful is this place... which conjures somewhat different images of the place... and even before it was awesome or awful, the King James translation used the word “dreadful”. How dreadful is this place... At least to my modern ears, that takes all the celebration right back out of the day.
In fact, through the awesome and awful miracle of Google, I can tell you that this place is awesome, fearful, terrifying, sacred, terrible, holy, and so on and so forth. Translators clearly struggle to find just the right word. How awesome is this place.
The problem is not with the translators... the problem is that a single word is not enough. All of these various words are good and bring particular insight in describing this place – it is awesome and dreadful and terrible and holy. For it is the house of God – who is beyond description and comprehension.
For nearly 100 years people, specifically monkish sorts of people, have prayed in this awful place. Just because I think in terms of numbers, I had to do some calculations and I discovered that, over that time, perhaps 120 thousand hours of corporate prayer and worship have been offered. That is something like 15 solid years of prayer... how sacred is this place.
But when it comes to being the house of God, the gate of heaven... well I think we then have to have Jesus in mind – in today's Gospel reading he is quite angry that God's house is turned into a den of thieves. We could comfort ourselves by reminding ourselves that he has in mind the folks nestled around the temple in Jerusalem – so that lets us off the hook... except it doesn't. If we think God is confined to just the inside of this house, we are wrong. God wanders the neighborhood and the entire planet for that matter. Can we be proud of how the world is functioning today? Do we live in a land where peace and justice flow like a mighty river to cover the entire earth? How dreadful is this place.
Some times I wonder at Jesus walking among us and visiting the great and marvelous edifices we have built more or less just for him... the cathedrals and shrines and sprawling mega-churches, and yes, monasteries with their chapels... And I hear Jesus asking “what has this got to do with me?” Worse still, there is the history we must not forget of exclusion – when in this country, for example, some churches were built with special galleries so that black people could be kept away from the white people... in Jesus name. Or when, to get a little closer to home, in this very church a gallery was built at the back so that women could be kept away from men... in Jesus name. How terrible is this place...
When this church was built it had many steps... you could not enter without facing a barrage of challenges... those who had mobility challenges would have struggled mightily, or just stayed away. But now, at fairly great expense, we are barrier free so that all may enter. How accessible is this place... (no, I didn't find that word in any known translation, but I think it belongs).
This monastery church or “minster” if you will – for that is just a corruption of monastery – is certainly worthy of honor and praise. It is a very prayerful place. But it is not the stones and timber and parging and paint that make it holy. It isn't the various crosses and icons. It isn't even the altar standing at the east. This place is holy because this is where we gather to praise God.
Two thousand years ago in Bethlehem a group of shepherds gathered to make a stable holy by greeting Jesus, praising God in heaven, and praying for peace on earth. That is what makes this place awesome and awful, dreadful and sacred, frightening and accessible. Here we do just what those shepherds did – nothing more and nothing less. Here we meet Jesus. Here we pray glory to God in the highest. And having met Jesus – having become one flesh with Jesus in the mystery of the Eucharist – we go forth from this holy place to make peace on earth.
Isaac Watts – one of the great hymnodists of all time – penned a text some centuries ago that I want to leave us with:
How sweet and awful is the place with Christ within the doors,
while everlasting love displays the sweetest of her stores.
While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast,
each of us cries, with thankful tongues, Lord why was I a guest?
Twas that same love that spread the feast that sweetly drew us in.
Else we had still refused to taste and perished in our sin.
Pity the nations, O our God, constrain the earth to come.
Send your victorious Word abroad and bring the strangers home.