As I write this entry, I am in Burlington, Vermont for the installation of their new bishop, The Most Reverend Christopher Coyne. Bishop Coyne was originally a priest from the Archdiocese of Boston, and in March of 2011 was ordained as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Since that time, we have been in the same support group of bishops.
During the Evening Prayer service last night, Bishop Coyne took official possession of his cathedral as the 10th Bishop of Burlington. This particular liturgical ceremony begins with a simple, yet profound moment when the new bishop knocks on the door, just as any of us would do when visiting a friend or neighbor. He is then greeted by the rector of the Cathedral, and welcomed by the community. As the people present last night applauded at the reception of their new bishop, I was reminded of the profound love the People of God have for their shepherds.
This morning, as I spend time with today’s readings, recalling last night’s experience of prayer in the Cathedral of Burlington, I reflect upon the nature of Church as the People of God, and the importance of remembering that none of us ‘go it alone.’ The selection from the Letter to the Hebrews today instructs us thus:
Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope,
for he who made the promise is trustworthy.
We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works.
We should not stay away from our assembly,
as is the custom of some, but encourage one another,
and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.
The first instruction is to remain strong in our faith, “our confession that gives us hope.” We have a faithful God, who has promised to remain with us always, who loves us with an infinite, unconditional love, and his “promise is trustworthy.” With a God who is faithful, who is with us always, we are live our faith in each moment of every day. It is precisely this God who makes us and calls us to be his holy, faithful people.
The cathedral experience of prayer yesterday evening was a profound reminder of the strength that is ours as a community of faith, as the holy, faithful people of God. Here again, we are called to such remembrance and fidelity when the author of the Letter to the Hebrews teaches us “We should not stray away from our assembly,” but should gather regularly with the family of God.
The law of nature teaches the same truth in a strong way. When a young or weak member of any herd of animals is separated from the herd, he becomes easy prey to predators. Likewise, when we become weak in faith and are separated from the holy, faithful people of God, we become easy prey to false philosophies of pop culture that can only offer dead end streets and darkness.
Rather, as we remain with and gather regularly with our faith family, we find encouragement, strength and hope. As God’s holy, faithful people, we not only remain in the Light of Christ, but can provide to others a glimpse of the “day drawing near” which is the never ending day of God’s eternal glory.
So, we are “to encourage one another.” Much of our mission as Church today is the work of ‘encouragement.’ Many today have chosen to “stay away from the assembly.” We are sent by Christ to re-kindle the flame of faith within them. We are sent to be a light in whatever darkness has clouded their minds and hearts. We are called to bring them back to the fold of God’s holy, faithful people. This is the desire of God’s heart. This is our mission as God’s holy, faithful people.