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25 May 2014
posted by Canon Dakin on 30-05-2014

4th Sunday after Easter

‘This is a terrible place’.  That might be a schoolboy’s translation of a Latin phrase, borrowed from the Old Testament and used at the ceremony for the consecration of a church: Terribilis est locus iste. ‘Terrible’ is a word we have taken directly from Latin but we have downgraded it. We have made it mean ‘bad’ as when we say ‘The food in that restaurant is terrible’. The correct translation of  terribilis is ‘awesome‘: Terribilis est locus iste. This place is awesome. So what makes this place awesome; it has never been consecrated? Forty years ago this week, on Saturday, May 31st, Mass was celebrated here for the first time. The building was never consecrated because it was meant to be transitional - the church was to follow. And we’re still here forty years later!

The consecration of a church is quite an impressive ceremony. The oil of chrism is poured onto the altar. Chrism is used when kings are crowned and priests are ordained. You were anointed with chrism at your baptism to signify that as a Christian you share Christ’s royalty and priesthood. The altar is anointed because it is a symbol of Christ. The walls of the church, too, are anointed in either twelve or four places - and you will see those places in a consecrated church marked with a cross, but the main element in the consecration of a church is the celebration of Mass.  It is the presence of Christ himself, on that altar and within that space, which sanctifies it and makes it ‘awesome’.  So we don’t treat this place like a games-room; it requires reverence - and thanks to you and to the people who preceded it has all the dignity that its simplicity allows.

I said that each one of us was anointed with chrism at our baptism. Each one of us, therefore, is a terrible person - each one of us is worthy of awe because each one of us is identified with Christ. I made the point that this place, though starkly simple, is truly awesome because Christ has become sacramentally present here.  You may go to St Peter’s, Rome, and be impressed by its magnificence but it is only truly awesome because Christ is present there just as he is here. Similarly with people - each one is worthy of awe, is worthy of deep respect, because each one is, at least potentially, a presence of Christ. If we despise anyone because of his or her simplicity it will be because we are blind - we are blind to the presence of Christ - and that, Our Lord has told us, will be the basis of our final reckoning.

A word about this afternoon. Between threeand four o’clock this afternoon Pope Francis will be in Bethlehem meeting the Christians there - not just the Catholics, the Christians. It will be an ecumenicaloccasion. Christians in the Holy Land are caught between a rock and a hard place - they are suffering because of the conflict between Jew and Arab. The Pope is going to the Holy Landto meet the Patriarch of Constantinople, the head of the Greek Orthodox, as Pope Paul VI did fifty years ago. We were once one church with the Orthodox - there are hopes that we may be so once again. But we are asked to focus our prayer on the plight of theChristians - Orthodox and Catholic. Notforgetting the Anglicans - which is why Anglican churches in England are also being invited to mark this particular time, between three and four this afternoon, by prayer. Our bishop apologises for the short notice - but perhaps it would be just a small sacrifice to adjust our plans for the day to include a visit here, to this place made awesome by the presence of Christ crucified and risen - the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed - toexpress solidarity with Pope Francis and with Christians living in a troubled land.     

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