In the Gospel we see the Lord himself entering His city and His temple, present in a very direct way, cleansing and purifying His Father's house. The city belonged to Him in a special way, His chosen city, the place of the throne of David that signifies the Lord's own eternal rule. The temple was the chosen place for His abiding Presence in the Holy of Holies, where the Blood of Atonement was carried within the veil and sprinkled once a year, and where no one but the High Priest dared to go, and never without that Blood of Atonement shed on Yom Kippor. The City was always the place of the Temple, the abiding place of His glorious Presence.
And, yet, even though the abiding Presence of God was there, Jesus speaks of His arrival at that hour as their time of visitation. The opening of this passage is sober:
"And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes."
The Epistle speaks also of the abiding Presence of God in His temple, that is, in His Church. And, it speaks, also, of Christ's visitation in this, the living temple of His people. For, Christ Himself is present whenever and wherever the Holy Spirit is present. In the Church we have always the Presence of Christ with us. He is with us by the abiding Presence of His Holy Spirit. By that abiding Presence He makes His Presence known further by charismatic realities.
The word "charisma" is the New Testament Greek word (χάρις- charis) that is translated both as "grace" and as "gift." When we say that something is charismatic, we do not mean, necessarily, that it is exciting or spectacular. Neither are we speaking, necessarily, about what was called, or is called, the Charismatic Movement. We speak, rather, of the graces or gifts of the Holy Spirit, doing so by using an English form of a word from the original language of the New Testament.
We hear a lot and read a lot about the charismatic reality of the sacraments, and of the mystery of His Presence in the sacrament of His Body and Blood. That sacrament is one of the charisms or charismata, one of the gifts that operates in His Church, in this case through the ordained ministry of the preisthood. The Presence of Christ's Body and Blood in the sacrament comes from the abiding Presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church; it is, in that proper and true sense, charismatic.
This chapter from St. Paul's First Epistle to the Church in Corinth ties all of these realities together. Christ is, by the Holy Spirit, always present in His Church; His is the abiding Presence. And, yet, each time He uses a member of His Body, the Church, He comes to us with a visitation. We can accept Christ our Lord, as He comes to us through the various members of His Body, the Church, or we can fail to know this hour, the time of our visitation. We can be reverent about His Body as he is present in the sacrament, and yet be irreverent toward His Body, the Members of that same Body who surround us here and now, the people sharing this room with us, Christ's Body the Church. When you stand in the presence of another member of His Body, you are faced with the hour of visitation. How will you respond?
Perhaps you might see, even now, why St. Paul followed this chapter, chapter twelve, with the famous chapter thirteen about that highest kind of love, the love we call charity:
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal...And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
We have not even begun to learn the lesson in today's Epistle. We may talk for hours about the Real Presence in the Eucharist, even debating various fine points of sacramental theology. In this chapter twelve, St. Paul tells us that the Church is the Body of Christ, that the members of the Church are the members of His Body. Paul places this in a very significant context: Between chapter eleven about the sacrament of Holy Communion, and chapter thirteen about charity, the love without which we are nothing, and without which we would be counted dead while we live.
In this chapter Paul teaches us that the gifts and graces God gives, without which each one of us is incomplete and terribly needy, are given to the people who surround us right now, in these members of the same Body, the Body of Christ. Metaphorically, and also somehow quite truly, you may be an ear, another may be a hand or a foot, unable to function all alone; and we all need what the other members have been given by the Holy Spirit. We depend on each other, we need each other. What we need is not each other's faults and failings; we need to be forgiving of those, because what we need are those gifts of the Holy Spirit God has placed even in the least comely of members.
We have different passages in the New Testament where gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed, and no two lists are the same. The possibilities are endless, because it is God who works in His Church according to His will. But, you may rest assured that you can afford to be hateful and resentful of absolutely nobody in this congregation; you can afford to be unfriendly to no one. Each member of the Body presents you with a visitation from Christ.
Furthermore, we cannot afford for any of you to miss your calling, to ignore the gifts of the Holy Spirit that have been given to you for our common good, and to further the witness of this parish in our common mission to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God. You must not be lukewarm in your commitment to Christ and His Church, or turn away from it. You were given gifts for our benefit, even if you have yet to discover them.
I pointed out to the children who studied for Confirmation last year, that C.S. Lewis wrote about the sacrament of Confirmation in his book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the chapter where the children meet Father Christmas, he gives them gifts; but these gifts are not toys; they are not given for the amusement and fun of the children. For example, Peter, in the story, is given a special sword to help win the battle to liberate Narnia, and Lucy is given a flask of liquid to use for healing. That is, the gifts are given to each of the children not to use for themselves, but to use for a common war effort against evil, and for the benefit, indeed the healing, of others. That is a picture of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
I look back on this past week here at St. Benedict's and the Vacation Bible School, and I see how some of the gifts God has placed throughout this very congregation came together and made something beautiful. I could not have done it, or even have gotten it started. Without the gifts God has placed in the members of the Body, I could get nothing done here. And, that is how God Himself has arranged it. It is meant to be that way.
To know this, the time of our visitation from Christ, we need to see the gifts that flourish from the abiding Presence of the Lord. We need to see each other in a new light, quick to forgive and always motivated by love. Indeed, we may have a thousand reasons not to love one another; but, we can afford to yield to not so much as one of them. We need charity, because, as much as we need to have reverence for the Presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrament, we need no less to have reverence for Christ in the members of His Body the Church--indeed, this church, right here and right now.
For further study see posting on the Tenth Sunday after Trinity 2009 and the Tenth Sunday after Trinity 2008.