Establishing a House That Endures
Occasionally I will notice an embroidered pillow on the couch, or a plaque by the front doors of a friend’s house to commemorate their beginnings, for instance: the Jones Family—est. 1997, or la Familia Mendoza—est. 2002. Businesses and institutions will add their founding year to their signs and stationery to add a little sophistication and gravitas, and a little credibility that they have been around a while. So they must know what they’re doing. It also means they are here to stay. It makes sense you would put down roots when you’re done wandering around in search of a place to call home.
Does anyone know when St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church was founded? The cornerstone on this building says 1931. That was when construction began. The church was dedicated the year after in 1932. But the Richmond Diocese website says 1946, making us 68. I guess that was when the parish was officially created after a few years of being listed as a mission of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Staunton. I like 1932 better. It says we’ve been around a while, that we’re not amateurs at doing “church.”
So out of curiosity, I went online. Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church on Wayne Avenue was built in 1958, 26 years after us. But the congregation was organized in 1893, 39 years before us. Main Street United Methodist Church on Main Street was built in 1874, 58 years before us. But they had an older building on Ohio Street from 1824, 108 years before us! First Baptist Church down the street was built in 1875, 57 years before us. St. John’s Episcopal Church on Wayne Avenue was reestablished in 1907 from a dormant parish that had been founded in 1847, 85 years before us. Across from First Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church moved to their current location in 1911 from the old News-Virginian building on Main Street, and another previous location on New Hope Road before that. But they were first organized in 1846, 86 years before us! The oldest church in the area is Tinkling Springs Presbyterian Church on Rt. 608/285 in Fishersville, founded in 1740, 192 years before us! So by comparison, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church looks like we just arrived on the scene last week. New spin, we’re young, which isn’t a bad thing. We’re vibrant and exciting and alive! And everyone knows the Roman Catholic Church traces its roots back 2000 years. That makes the rest of them look like amateurs by comparison. But lest we sound petty and childish, we have to admit we’re still learning.
King David established his palace in Jerusalem in the mid-10th century BCE, his reign having entered a period of unprecedented peace. King Saul before him caused a split in the kingdom by his disobedience, and David became king of the southern territory of Judah only. After Saul’s death, David became king of the unified kingdom of Judah and Israel. But all through this time, the Ark of the Covenant that contained the tablets of the Law was still housed in a tent, as it had been since the time of Moses and Israel’s wandering in the desert. So David thought to build a temple to the God of Israel. Even the prophet Nathan thought it was a brilliant idea. Yet God had other plans. He would establish David’s house and kingdom to endure forever.
Israel’s hope of a messiah derived from this promise of God through the prophet Nathan to King David. “The Lord will establish a house for you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.” And whenever the people of Israel were conquered and oppressed, which throughout their history was quite a lot, their hopes for a conquering hero and liberator would reignite. God always kept his promises, they assured themselves. A king would rise, descended from the great King David, who would reestablish their place in history and restore Israel to glory. Every Jew familiar with the law and the prophets knew this.
Then the angel Gabriel was sent by God to the young girl Mary of Nazareth, announcing the coming of a child who would sit upon the throne of the great King David. “He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.” This child would be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. It was indeed a tremendous honor that God had chosen her. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Mary may not have had time to let that honor sink in, since every single person chosen by God for a special role in God’s plan was known to experience great upheaval in their lives. But there was something else in the angel’s words that was decidedly different from the image of a messiah Israel had long cherished. “The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Perhaps there was no doubt of a clear connection between this new king and the God of Israel. It was not a mere physical generation from King David that would make him special. But the messiah, literally the Anointed of God, would be God’s unique messenger, more important than any prophet.
This was the mystery St. Paul speaks of in his letter to the Romans, “the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings and … made known to all nations.” Jesus Christ, the son of Mary of Nazareth, is the fulfillment of God’s promise to David, the promise that his house and kingdom would endure, and his throne would stand firm. This mystery is “made known according to the command of God … to bring about the obedience of faith.” Perhaps at a time in human history when the annual celebration of the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David has been reduced to twinkling lights and a largely secular observance, we might bring ourselves back to what God originally intended.
One powerful reason many people think it to be a good idea that their house and their name endure through time is that it gives them some measure of immortality. The birth of Jesus Christ, son of Mary, son of King David, and son of God, that we celebrate each year reminds us that God has fulfilled his promise. When King Solomon finally built the temple in Jerusalem that was his father King David’s idea first, there was great rejoicing in all of Israel that God had finally made a permanent home among his people. But what our faith teaches us is that God’s permanent home among us is not primarily a physical house or building. Rather, God makes his home among us, in our hearts and minds, when we live the values of the Gospel and the teachings of his Son, when we are open to being transformed by grace, when we are willing to extend his rule by drawing others to him.
A worthy temple or church is a powerful sign of God’s presence in the world, but only if we first welcome God among us, into our hearts and into our lives.
Rolo B Castillo © 2014