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On the Anniversary of  The Dedication of The Chapel of The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine

By The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz

Giving thanks on the anniversary of the dedication of this chapel, we hear once again the account of the dedication of the Temple built in Jerusalem early the reign of King Solomon. Preparing for this homily I found myself re-reading the chapters preceding the dedication itself.

Chapter 5 records Solomon’s intent to build the House of The Lord and the generous support he received from King Hiram of Tyre. It also records his amassing of thousands of people conscripted into forced labor for the cutting of cedar and cypress and the massive stones for the foundation of the Temple.

Chapter 6 chronicles the measurement specifications and construction details for the Temple, including the huge doorposts of olive wood, the covering of the floors with boards of cypress, the lining of the wills with panels of cedar, and the recessing of the great windows. This chapter also records the ornamentation of the Temple with  carvings of cherubim, palm trees and open flowers, and the overlaying of the inner sanctuary with gold.

Chapter 7 records the labors of Hiram, the bronze worker, making reference to all of the vessels for use in the sacrifices to be offered in the Temple – the firepans, bowls, basins and the like. It also records the labors of those who worked with gold in creating  the altar, the table of Presence, the great lamp stands, the snuffers, and the dishes for incense.

So it is that we come to Chapter 8 and The Dedication. In the reading appointed for today we hear Solomon’s prayer….but only half of it.

What immediately precedes his prayer is the calling of an assembly of all the elders of Israel, the heads of tribes and the leaders of homes .(Verses 1-5). When all the people had assembled the priests arrived with the ark and placed it under the cherubim in the inner sanctuary. And the glory of The Lord descended and it filled the entire house. (Verses 6-13).

Then Solomon offered Doxology (Verses 14-21) blessing The Lord for having fulfilled what he had promised to King David – that it would not be he who would build ‘a  house for his name’ but his son.

And then with hands spread out toward heaven Solomon prayed that the eyes of the Lord God be open night and day toward this place and that in his mercy he would hear the prayers of the people. (Verses 22-30) That is the part of his prayer we hear today. What we don’t hear is how he went on to pray according to the circumstances out of which the people would pray in years to come – out of contexts of personal, household or national sin; out of contexts of draught and famine and war and captivity and exile. And he prayed for all foreigners who would come from distant lands having heard of The Lord’s great name and his arm outstretched in deliverance and mercy. (Verses 31-53)

And then when Solomon had finished his prayer he arose from the altar of the Lord and with a loud voice blessed all the assembly of Israel with these words. “Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spake through his servant Moses. The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our ancestors; May he not leave us or abandon us, but incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his  commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances which he commanded our ancestors. Let these words of mine, with which I pleaded before the Lord, be near to the Lord day and night, and many he  maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel as each day requires; so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other. Therefore devote yourselves completely to the Lord, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.” (Verses 56-61) And having blessed the people, Solomon himself made sacrifices to the Lord.

In recalling Solomon’s prayer of Dedication in that broader spectrum of the chapters leading up to it we find a pattern for our thanksgiving on this occasion of recalling the dedication of this temple.

With gratitude we recall how this community had holy desire to build this chapel to be the very heart of the Convent, the place in which you fulfill your vocation to lift the life of Church and the World heavenward every day, and to pray for all those who ask for your prayers, the place from which all your ministries are infused with the grace of God.

With gratitude we recall all those who had a heart and hand in the design of the chapel, full as it is of the light of God.
With gratitude we recall all those who worked in stone, and wood and glass to create such sacred space, elegant in its simplicity.
With gratitude we remember those who gave so generously to the building and adorning of the chapel.
And with gratitude many if you will recall the day of Dedication and the great joy that marked the occasion.

We can only imagine the music that accompanied the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem – the wind instruments, the stringed instruments, the instruments of pipe and percussion;  and all the people singing the praises of the Lord.
As we mark dedications and anniversaries of them The Church has a vast store of music to accompany our celebrations, none perhaps so lovely as John Samuel Beverley Monsel’s great hymn “Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness”.

Verse 1 is about Adoration:

“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;  bow down before him, his glory proclaim; gold of obedience  and incense of lowliness bring and adore him: The Lord is his name!”

Verse 2 is about Intercession:

“Low at this feet lay thy burden of carefulness” …our care for the neighborhood and the nation, the city and the world, the Church and its witness to The Gospel of Jesus.
“Low at his feet lay thy burden of carefulness; high on his heart he will bear it for thee, comfort thy sorrows, and answer thy prayerfulness, guiding thy steps as May best for thee be.”

Verse 3 is about Trust:

“Fear not to enter his courts in the slenderness of the poor wealth thou canst reckon as thine.”
Sometimes we enter this chapel feeling spiritually fit and full of vitality. And at other times feeling spiritually exhausted, even depleted, reckoning our spiritual health as impoverished. “Fear not” reads the hymn.
“Fear not to enter his courts in the slenderness of the poor wealth thou canst reckon as thine; truth in its beauty and love in its tenderness, these are the offerings to lay on  his shrine.”

Adoration, Intercession, and Trust- this is what we are about as often as make our way in to this place, always made ready for worship in the beauty of holiness.

The anniversary of dedication  is occasion to give thanks for every Sister who over the years has had a hand in preparing the chapel for the liturgies of  the day and of the evening. We think especially of all those who have served in the office of Sacristan. We think too of those who have the care of the linens for the  altar, the vessels for Holy Communion and the vestments worn by the sacred ministers of this Holy Banquet.

It is occasion to give  thanks for all entrusted with oversight of the Prayer of The Community, those who shape and re-shale the Ordo, those who compose music and those who make music, and those who lead the community in contemplative silences.

It is occasion to give thanks too for all the Sisters who serve as Ministers of Welcome for guests.

And finally in keeping with the order for The Dedication of The Temple in  Jerusalem – the assembling of the people, Solomon’s prayer to the Lord and his word to the people. Let us take to heart afresh his counsel.

“The Lord our God be with us. May he never leave us or abandon us, but incline our hearts to him….Devote yourselves completely to the Lord, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments.”

May such devotion be not only our bounden duty and service but our everlasting joy!