The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
September 8, 2002
Ezekiel 33:7-9 + Romans 13:8-10 + Matthew 18:15-20
In Roman Catholic tradition, the “REAL PRESENCE” is a significant issue. It is a matter of faith. Yet for many that idea is focused only on the Sacrament of Eucharist. To leave it there, to think that this is the only “REAL PRESENCE” is to live one’s faith in a very passive and very incomplete way. The promise of Jesus recorded for us in Matthew 18 is a promise of presence, but it is not a presence reserved only for the Eucharist. It is a presence to be felt deeply in the human heart, acknowledged humbly in human life, and celebrated joyfully in the reconciliation of those who have been isolated, alienated, and broken by sin. I would suggest to you that Matthew is proposing that the experience of real presence that Jesus offers is first to be found in forgiveness. Those of us who have known in our lives the experience of reconciliation, the overwhelming peace and powerful joy that fills the human heart at the moment of reconciliation with another have known the presence of Christ as really and as surely as anyone. They have seen the victory of love over anger and hate and hurt.
This world and this church are filled with people who long for the presence of Christ; who seek him; who have felt his absence; who know the suffering of alienation and estrangement. Some in this world seek him, or what Christ provides in money, power, prestige, and privilege. Some come here week after week to begin their search for God, to sustain and renew it, or to bring it to a joyful close. No matter where, the longing and the search for God continues day in and day out.
What we proclaim as church, what Matthew announces as Good News is that it is possible to know the real presence of Christ, and we may live in that presence by the power of forgiveness. The heart of the Gospel text that we proclaim this day is the remarkable promise of Jesus: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst.” Do you hear that ancient Biblical language: “I AM?”
This is Matthew – Old Testament images and references are important. This is “I AM” speaking – this is “I AM” revealing where he is to be found. This promise is not simply about the power of prayer, but in the context of this Gospel, much, much more. Sin isolates and estranges us from one another. It leaves us in alone and impossible to “gather as two or three.”
Reconciliation breaks through that isolating barrier, and in that coming together, “I am in your midst.”
This promise is not a recipe for prayer. It is an invitation to discover the presence of Christ. The very identity of and essence of Church is found in the reconciling experience. Forgiveness and Healing is what we are, and it is where we first discover the one for whom we long in the depth of our hearts. Reconciliation is the ministry of Jesus Christ. It is where he is to be found and where His glory will first be discovered.
Only after there is reconciliation can we move into the union and peace of the Eucharist. In ritual this is why we begin with: “Lord Have Mercy”. In ritual it is why we reach out to each other in peace before we come to the altar. To do this in ritual, it must be so in life itself. In as much as we are reconciled and at peace with each other, we shall be in the Presence of Christ.