Mass of Reconciliation, St. Anthony’s Parish, Lloydminster
[Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 96; Matthew 18:12-14]
I’ve long been intrigued by the status of Lloydminster as a border city, a unique one. This is a city not at a border, but one in which the frontier runs directly through and splits it in half. Ever since the fourth Meridian was chosen as the inter-provincial boundary, the City of Lloyd has had to learn to live as one city impacted by two provincial jurisdictions. It works, not without challenges, because the citizens want it to, and so work at it, negotiating the quandaries and difficulties as they arise. The driving motivation is unity. If we are one city in principle, then we have to work at making it one city in practice.
This is a helpful analogue for understanding the challenges and tensions with which the Church has always had to contend. We all know that the Church is established by Christ to be one, without boundaries. He came among us so that the peoples of the world, long separated and estranged from one another since the first sin of Adam and Eve, might be reconciled in him. He did this by the blood of his Cross and the forgiveness of sins given in his self-sacrifice. Yet, unlike the City of Lloydminster, where citizens deal with an internal border imposed upon them, Christians have long been tempted to set up boundaries of their own volition within the Church. These can be dividing lines based on ethnicity, geographic provenance, or economic status. Partitions can also arise when ideological trends competing for jurisdiction over our minds find their way into the community of faith. Or, as the long history of the Church demonstrates, differing understandings of the person of Christ, varying interpretations of Scripture, and rejection of authority have all led to the establishment of perimeters that separate believers one from the other.
At the root of all this is the borderline that runs straight through the human heart whenever the choice is made for self over God and His divine purpose. This is the point at which one begins to stray. As long as our hearts admit of no boundary that would separate us from Christ, then by virtue of our union with the one Lord we remain united in his one flock. Separation from Christ leads inevitably to distancing from one another, to the individual “straying” that sets up borders within the one Church of Christ. From this we know what reconciliation is: the recovery of lost unity. And tonight, we hear from the Lord himself how to discover the way back to one another. We find that way when we allow ourselves to be found, when we acknowledge that we have strayed from the will of the Master, and ask him to carry us back to the fold.
The text from Matthew is among the most moving in all of Scripture. Jesus is the shepherd who does not hesitate to go after even one sheep who has strayed. There is no sense in the text that the shepherd is angry with the sheep. Rather, what is evident is his love for it. Each and every sheep is equally precious in his sight. This is immensely consoling to us. Sin is a stranger to no-one. When the transgression is particularly grave, we might fear that the Lord would be angry and not want to forgive. The Gospel passage should put that fear to rest. Jesus will not give up on us, and is filled with joy when we allow him to find us, place us on his shoulders, and carry us back to the fold where we are safe.
More than consoling, though, this parable is meant as a lesson to all who would follow Christ. Just as to him each and every member of the flock is precious in his sight, so, too, must they be in ours. His joy when the flock is united is to be ours as well. This means that, just as Jesus does not rest when there is separation, neither may we. The unity of the Church is both gift and task. It is gift by virtue of the Holy Spirit, bestowed in the sacraments, who makes us one. It is task in that we need to be on guard against the establishment of borders that in any way demarcate us from one another and keep us apart, and ready to remove them wherever they exist.
Tonight, I have re-dedicated this parish church of Saint Anthony. The decision to do this arose from the recognition, common to us all, that we need a fresh start, one that can happen only if we turn to Christ together and dedicate ourselves anew to him and his mission. In the rite I have carried out this evening, the original dedication of this building to the worship of Almighty God is renewed. For our new beginning to be effective and fruitful, this act of re-dedication of the church building must be accompanied by our personal re-dedication to Christ and to one another. We give God right and fitting praise when the Eucharistic worship we give here to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is reflected in the daily sacrifice we make of our lives for the sake of the Church and its mission of reconciliation and unity.
The Lord loves this parish of Saint Anthony more than we can imagine. Each member of this faith community is to him of equal and inestimable worth. By the grace of this mass of reconciliation, may the Good Shepherd reach across and erase any borders we place between ourselves and him, and so carry us back to one another.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Anthony’s Parish, Lloydminster
December 7th, 2021