Dedication of the Chapel of Christ the King, King’s College
September 15, 2019
What a glorious day that we are privileged to experience in praise of God and with gratitude for all that God has done in our lives and in this wonderful community of faith here at King’s College. Thank you to Father Ryan, President of King’s College, to Father Jenkins and the members of the Holy Cross Community, to the administration, faculty, staff and students of King’s, and to the many friends of this great institution of higher learning for the invitation to lead us all in prayer as we dedicate this chapel to Christ our King.
This magnificent dwelling place for God is a tribute to all of you and countless others who, in so many and different ways, have worked to build the Church – the People of God. While our immediate focus is on the intense efforts that culminate in today’s dedication liturgy, the work of building Church began on this hill almost 150 years ago when Memorial Presbyterian Church opened its doors to provide a home for the People of God – a place where the Word of God was proclaimed and faithful souls found the support that they needed to embrace that Word and live out their baptismal calling as disciples of the Lord Jesus.
What a blessing it is to know that the Gospel will continue to be proclaimed in this sacred space, that the People of God will continue to be nourished by God’s Word and sacraments, and that the Church – by God’s grace – will continue to grow and to provide healing and hope to our world.
This liturgy of dedication, while familiar in its shape and substance, is unique in many ways. It doesn’t happen that often. I hope you will watch, listen, and soak it the richness of this powerful moment of prayer and praise.
But first, let’s reflect upon the Word of God that has echoed within these walls for a century and a half. While numerous scripture passages may be chosen for the liturgy of a church dedication, the first reading from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah is always required. In so many respects, it’s a passage that is foundational to what this day and this moment in the life of this faith community at King’s College is all about.
In the reading from Nehemiah, Ezra the priest gathered the people of Israel together and proclaimed the Word of God. But that gathering was not just an ordinary moment in which the people joined together in worship and praise. It was the first time that the people of Israel had come together after almost 50 years of the Babylonia exile – an exile that began with the destruction of their lives and the eventual destruction of the magnificent temple to God built by King Solomon.
Finally, after a half century of suffering, the people of Israel were allowed to return to their homes. And Ezra reminded them through his proclamation of the Torah that while the temple had been destroyed, God was in the midst of his people bringing them back to life!
Indeed, that moment reminded the people of Israel that for so much of their history following upon God establishing a relationship – a covenant of love – with them, Yahweh – God – didn’t dwell apart from his people in a house made of gold and silver and precious stones. No – he dwelt in a tent in the midst of his people. He was one with them – supporting and sustaining them – and forming them into a people unique unto himself.
My sisters and brothers, God continues to dwell in the midst of his people – here – today – gathering us from near and far to this campus of King’s College – supporting and sustaining us as a people of faith.
And in today’s gospel passage with the story of Zacchaeus – God’s redemptive presence is given human shape and form. At the heart of the story are a whole lot of people who stand in need of God’s mercy and a God – in Jesus – who seeks out them out to wrap them in his mantle of forgiveness and love.
The message of Jesus touches two groups in the gospel. … First, the message speaks to Zacchaeus and those like him, who, while clearly less than perfect in their choices and actions, suffer most of all because they are unfairly judged. To Zacchaeus and everyone who has been slandered and rumored against and spoken evil of, Jesus offers vindication. “Come down Zacchaeus. I want to dine at your house tonight.”
Then the message expands to embrace all who stand in judgment of others, like those who are on the ground looking with disdain at the tree where Zacchaus was perched. To them – and to us – this gospel offers forgiveness and a way forward if we seek to avail ourselves of God’s mercy.
Essentially, what this treasured gospel proclaims on this great day dedication of this house of worship is an invitation: an invitation to accept the Lord Jesus – to accept his vindication – to accept his forgiveness – and to accept his call to discipleship. … “Today, salvation has come to this house” – to this community of believers on the campus of King’s College – to this Church at prayer.
In just a few moments, we will celebrate four rites that are unique to this dedication ritual: the anointing of the altar and walls of the chapel, the incensation of the altar and chapel, and the covering and lighting of the altar and chapel. Each of these rites expresses in a visible way the work that Jesus accomplishes in and through his Church whenever we celebrate the mysteries of our faith, especially the Eucharist. Watch and pray along with me as these rites unfold.
All of these unique rituals will culminate in something very familiar: the celebration of the Holy Eucharist – the end for which this chapel was built – the living presence of God in our midst – enlivening us for mission and service.
Pope Francis reminds us often that our lives as Christians, while strengthened by the Eucharist, can never lose touch with our responsibility as the baptized to engage the mission of Jesus and to serve generously and selflessly, following his example. “If Catholics do not proclaim Jesus with their lives, then the Church is less than what it should be. … But when believers share their faith … embrace the power of their baptism … and serve with love … there is life.”
What a joyful day – a day to celebrate our faith and to give thanks for all that God has accomplished in and through this blessed community of believers – yet, a day that also reminds us that the journey of faith is never ending. It continues for us all! … While we have much for which to be grateful this day, this chapel will only shine forth as a vibrant sign of God’s mercy and love if each of us, who fill it with life, continue to live our faith in service of the Gospel of Jesus, who served us selflessly from the cross.
So, my sisters and brothers – give thanks – serve generously with love – and continue to build CHURCH – the People God has called us to be!