You may remember the images of ecstatic joy on the faces of people throughout Eastern Europe in 1989, when in a few months
the entire European Communist structure fell. Statues of comisars were toppled. The Berlin Wall was torn down. People rejoiced!
I was reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almight, free at last!!" as
I saw people celebrate their freedom from terror and governmental tyranny. While we celebrate today the feast of the Dedication
of the St John Lateran Basilica in Rome and that may seem quite distant from the joyful celebration of freedom experienced
after the fall of communism, they are actually very closely related.
The first two hundred years of the history of Christianity were marked with terrible persecution of Christians. While the
persecutions were not constant or universal most of the time, toward the end of the third century, around 290, the persecutions
were particularly virulent and undertaken throughout the Roman Empire. Christians were bloodied and frightened, even if they
still stood up to their persecutors with great courage. The situation for Christians looked the worst it had been since the
Then suddenly, in a matter of a few months, there was a new emperor, Constantine, and he was talking like a Christian.
His mother was a Christian. And the Church was no longer persecuted, in fact it was quickly made the favored state Church!
Much like the eastern Europeans over a decade ago, the Christians were ecstatic with joy at this miraculous turn of events.
One of the first acts of the new Emperor was to give to Bishop Sylvester of Rome, the magnificent Lateran Basilica as the
central place of worship for the Christian community of Rome, now that they were no longer an outlawed sect. Where emperors
who persecuted Christians once held court, now the Christians of Rome celebrated the Eucharist. The dedication of that basilica
as a Christian place of worship was such a turning point in the experience of the Christian community that they couldn't have
been any more surprised or happy if Jesus had returned from heaven on that very day!
It seems strange that we have a feast for the dedication of a Church building. Yet, if we take a look at today's readings
we find that when the Church is referred to it is not some building, even the great Basilica of St. John Lateran. It is the
community of believers. Buildings are not the Church. The pope is not the church. The bishops are not the church. The
clergy are not the church. The laity is not the church. All of us together, as brothers and sisters in Christ, through the
grace of baptism, are the Church! Further, St. Paul tells us that we are Church built upon the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.
We are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in us!
Our gathering here is called a celebration. That is, we are celebrating the Eucharist. The priest is the presider at this
celebration in which we all participate. While our ancestors in faith celebrated joyfully at the time of the dedication of
the Basilica of St. John Lateran that the terror of persecution had come to an end, we have much to rejoice over today. For
all the hardships that we struggle with day to day, we are God's people. We are loved by God. The Holy Spirit dwells within
us, as a community of faith and as the individual baptized members of the Body of Christ. What greater blessing could we possibly