The abundance of God’s merciful love is a cause for our Joy Never Ending.
God’s fidelity to the promise of new life is a cause for our Joy Never Ending.
Our capacity to engage with God beyond time (without limitation) is a cause for our Joy Never Ending.
Our communion with those who have gone before us in faith is a cause for our Joy Never Ending.
We’re celebrating God’s saving work today and our liturgy catches us up in this saving work and allows us to be with one another while we hold the images of the markers bearing the names of our brothers who have gone before us through death clear in our minds. We reflect on the cause of our joy and unequivocably say – our life in Christ!
Pause with me, my brothers in community, and capture in your memory some favorite moment with one or more of the men whose graves we have just passed and blessed. My Hebrew friends tell me the deceased are alive in the memories of those who love them. Jesus certainly commands us to remember his dying and rising – ‘do this in remembrance of me.’ And we cannot consider those who are gone without the context of the faith they lived; the faith we share them and which holds us united with them; our faith in Christ, risen, glorified, and cradling us as it were in his hands between time and eternity. Our coming apart to live this vocation is for the Lord and because of the Lord (you did not choose me, I chose you) and today we acknowledge that the Lord is giving us a taste of the joy that will never end as we journey to that life which is to be with him forever.
Our scriptures ground us today in strong language, strong imagery: slave, friend; living stones, house of God; Jacob’s dream of a ladder, the gate of heaven. And we concentrate on understanding these as the context to remember the experience of the founding of Mepkin as a monastery in 1949 – 60 years ago. How providential that Brother Gregory is with us as a living testament to that action in the Spirit – the setting down of monastic roots in this soil – the faith filled arranging of the living stones to form a house of God which continues to rise in the stream of men who have come and are coming now to live our Cistercian tradition with the same sense of wonder and awe that filled Jacob as he dreamed of the ladder of ascent to heaven.
No one romanticizes the hard work of those who came in successive waves from Gethsemani to give Mepkin Abbey its spiritual foundation, and were joined by those who came and directly entered here. Named to honor the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the community grew physically and spiritually only by uniting itself to the heart of Jesus – a compassionate heart but a heart that knew great suffering. Love is willing to suffer in behalf of another. Christ suffering for us, we suffering for Our Lord whom we know concretely in his body – the church – both the church universal and the little church of Mepkin – the brothers. How can we not be mindful today of the absence of our abbot, apart from us for a time of renewal for his body and his spirit; of Father Richard, caring for the sisters in Ecuador; of Father Aelred, taking this long time for discerning and deciding. The little church of Mepkin is not a building. It is the men of faith made living stones by ‘the stone rejected by men but chosen by God…’ as the letter to the Hebrews describes. It is the community in solemn vows with those in the various stages of formation as well as those desiring to join us wearing blue shirts, and the discerners who have visited and left asking for our prayers.
To celebrate the unending joy that is ours is to contemplate the unlimited love God is offering us. Surely we would prefer that experience to be without any ripple on the surface or wrinkle or fold but this is never the case. God uses adversity to strengthen us and purifies us in fire. Faith gives us eyes to see beyond difficulties, limitations, burdens, sadness and taste here and now in a small way what is yet to be fulfilled. Let there be no mistake this spiritual pruning or melting feeds the desire, the spiritual appetite we have for more of God. To be one with the Christ not bounded by space and time, while living in space and time, both challenges and encourages us. But this what it is to be people of faith and journey (in the monastic way) into the living God.
For you who come to pray with us here this morning, we honor your desire to grow deeper in your relationship with the God who tells us in Christ, ‘I call you friends.’ We all – monks and guests together – shiver to take in all that Jesus implies in giving us the dignity of such intimacy. Our hearts expand to receive the Eucharistic Lord feeding us beyond what we can appreciate in this moment in order to return us to the ‘mission’ specifically entrusted to us in the living out of the yes of our baptism and our individual vocations. Mepkin exists to provide the place for each and all to say with Jacob ‘truly God is in this place and I did not realize it. This is nothing less than a house of God.’
In the city of Waterbury, Connecticut, on the green in the middle of the city sits a large church that is a replica of one of the many beautiful churches in Rome. The church is named in honor of Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. Over the front doors are words inscribed in Latin: Domus Dei, Porta Coeli. The translation is – house of God, gate of heaven. I mention it because our first reading speaks of Jacob’s awareness that he was, in this existence brought to grasp that he was on the threshold of the life everlasting which we can only have in God. Our monastic liturgy is, as I have said before, a liminal experience. We are in our little church chanting the office with our guests. But at the same time we are joining our voices to the heavenly choir, ceaselessly praising God, in the hymn of joy never ending. And we are “here” but we have one foot “there” at the same time.
So, I pray that on this anniversary, we may desire to focus on and renew ourselves in, the love of the Trinity which is never not with us. Be relentless in snatching whatever time you may to give your mind and heart to God who has formed you to be a temple of the Spirit, thus a ‘living’ stone in the larger spiritual edifice that is our monastic community of Mepkin in that great and truly awesome Church of Jesus. For we are in the words of the letter to the Hebrews: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Most certainly a cause for Joy Never Ending.