"Give thanks for a remembrance of his holiness" (Ps. 97:12)
The Collect for this festival makes reference to the presence of Jesus at the ancient Jewish Feast of Dedication - a festival which was observed each year to mark the anniversary of the cleansing and re-consecration of the Temple in Jerusalem, after Judas Maccabaeus, that great Jewish hero, had recaptured the city from the pagan occupying forces, in the second century before Christ. You can read the story in the First Book of the Maccabees, or listen to a musical celebration of it in Handel's Oratorio about Judas Maccabaeus.
Our Feast of Dedication recalls that ancient ceremony, marking the purifying and rebuilding of the house of God, the dedication of the Temple; and what we celebrate, in the first place, is the dedication of this temple, this particular church building as a particular place of God's presence with us in Word and Sacrament. But there are several levels of meaning to be considered here. According to the Scriptures, the Temple means not only the building, but also the spiritual community which gathers there - "a spiritual house", St. Peter recalls in our Lesson, "a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God's own possession".
The Temple in the sacred building - the Temple is the spiritual community. And there is still a further dimension as our Collect reminds us, the Temple means also the house of God within each one of us, for we ourselves are "living temples" of the Lord, "holy and acceptable to him". On all these levels of meaning, the Temple is the locus of God's presence, the place of the meeting of the soul with God, in knowledge and in love, and the building which we celebrate is, as it were, a sacrament - an outward and visible sign of that gracious indwelling presence.
This building stands here as a sign, a reminder, a call to remembrance, a call to recognition of a sacred reality, a remembrance of the holiness of God. In a very secular culture with its very secularized institutions, the church must be a continual reminder: the building and all that belongs to it, and all that goes in it, must reaffirm the sacred.
Everything that goes on here, day by day - the faithful recitation of common prayer, the solemn commemoration of the work of our redemption, all the words and all the music of our liturgies - must be reminders: a remembrance of the holiness of God.
That must be our dedication.
It is significant that this particular church building is part of a university campus: a reminder that our university, like most others, was established by the church; but also a reminder of something vastly more important than historical circumstance: a reminder that the integrity of our intellectual life ultimately depends upon our dedication to absolute truth which we seek to know and love. Without that dedication, without that unity of focus, there can be no genuine university, but only a multiversity of information and techniques with no coherence of final significance.
Thus the chapel is by no means an adjunct to the facilities of the university, not just a convenience for those who want to go to church, but the very heart of the whole enterprise; and what goes on here, whether it be some great ceremony, or just a handful of people faithfully maintaining the daily offices, is of primary importance to the true meaning of the university. The truth is sacred, and to be sought with prayer.
Our dedication must be to the affirmation of the sacred as the true character of the church's mission in this university and in a secular culture generally. We must insist upon the sacred in the spirit and the forms, and even in the language and the manners of our worship, in the music and the architecture and all the arts pertaining to worship; we must insist upon the sacred in those standards of belief and those standards of moral life which are founded in the sacred word.
And if we would be practical about our dedication, we must continually build up within ourselves the spirit of penitential adoration, and train ourselves to lift our eyes to look upon our spirits' home, the new and free Jerusalem, which is above. That will be a renewing of the Temple, the rebuilding of God's house, among us and within us; and that must be our dedication, and the meaning of our festival today in which we offer our praises to God, and "give thanks" for a remembrance of his holiness".
And now we go on to complete that great act of remembrance, which sets before our minds and hearts the sign and means of our redemption. "We wait for thy loving kindness, O God, in the midst of thy Temple". Amen.
© Robert Crouse