Can you remember when we celebrated the Lord's Supper only in church buildings? Back then, most of us thought Jesus had planned it that way, deliberately constructing the Eucharistic rituals so we could carry them out only in huge Gothic or baroque structures, squeezed into wooden pews, watching a vestment-clad priest standing at least a hundred feet away from us in front of an ornate altar, mumbling unintelligible prayers.
Then came the Second Vatican Council.
We began breaking Eucharistic word and bread around our dining room tables. Though the priest was still vestment-clad, he was now sitting among us, speaking in our language, reminding us of what Jesus said and did while He sat among His friends on the night before He died.
We, the Church
Though there are many implications to this dramatic switch, one of the most significant is the insight that we, not buildings, are the church. We don't have to go to a special place to be what we already are. We find parallel insights in Sunday's three readings.
For over 200 years, the Ark of the Covenant has been a "mobile shrine," kept in a tent so it could be easily carried to any place where Yahweh's special presence was needed. Now David wants to build a special temple in which to house it (II Sam 7: 1-5, 8-12, 14, 16).
Though Nathan the prophet initially okays the plan, he eventually returns to inform the king that Yahweh is more concerned with turning David's family into "a house" than in Yahweh's residing in a house. In other words, God's presence in families is more important than God's presence in buildings.
If we know the context in which Luke situates Gabriel's Annunciation to Mary, we'll notice something similar in the Gospel (Lk 1: 26-38). This well-known narrative actually follows and is contrasted with another annunciation: Gabriel's words to Zechariah about the conception of John the Baptizer.
This latter event even happens where such an event should happen: in the Holy Place of the Jerusalem temple, next to the altar of incense, where Yahweh's angel stands ready to take people's prayers to Yahweh.
In contrast to Zechariah, Mary receives her Annunciation at home, nowhere near the temple's Holy Place. The unexpected location makes Gabriel's greeting, "The Lord is with you!" even more significant than it normally would be.
Jesus among us
As Luke's Gospel evolves, God's presence among us in the person of Jesus, Mary's Son, becomes an important theological theme. It assumes an ever deeper significance when the evangelist mentions that, at Jesus' death, the veil of the temple was split in two. This ornate tapestry, separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place (where Zechariah offers incense), symbolized the division between God and us -- the gulf between the sacred and the profane. For Luke, Jesus' life, death and resurrection shreds that division once and for all. And it all starts with Mary's at-home Annunciation.
It ends with Paul's realization that, through the risen Jesus, God can even work in and through Gentiles, an astounding insight for the early Christian community. Having been raised to believe that Jews were Yahweh's special people, Jesus' first followers presumed His message was intended for them alone. Yet, within a generation and a half after Jesus' resurrection, Paul writes to the community in Rome about "the mystery hidden for many ages but now manifested through the writings of the prophets, and, at the command of the eternal God, made known to all the Gentiles."
The bishops at Vatican II simply continued down the path our sacred authors first explored, a path that erases the line separating sacred and profane. They brought us back to one of early Christianity's fundamental beliefs: Through Jesus, every thing, every place, every situation, every person is sacred.