Jun 11, 2007

Sacred Space


Late on Saturday night, June 2, after the Paamaalam but before Britni's "wake", Barbara and I along with our friend Carol, were at the church cleaning up after the party. As I vaccummed the floor of the main auditorium, I thought to myself. . .this is sacred space.

What makes it sacred? After all it's just a room--at the moment, empty, quiet, the chairs all stacked along the walls. It's not even a "dedicated" sanctuary (though there have been recent efforts to up the "holiness" factor of the room--no more potlucks in the main auditorium, ties on the platform etc). So what makes this place sacred?

It's where people meet with God--that's what makes this place special. Not just for church services, or other traditionally "church" functions, but whenever we meet together in that room, it's in the context that God is there with us.

That night we'd celebrated the service of six missionaries who'd given a year of their lives to share their love for God with kids in Saipan. An integral part of that emotional evening was recognizing the presence of God--in guiding these people to Saipan, in empowering their ministries, in touching the lives of those around them. We held this event in the church, and I think there was extra significance to it because of that--we held it in the place where we meet with God.

A lot of times we act as if reverence in church means the sense of: "Careful, you might make Him mad. You're in His territory now. So don't touch anything. You might break something." I'm not sure that this kind of "hands-off" museum approach to church is what reverence is supposed to be about. A church should inspire awe and reverence because of what happens there. It should be the one place where we are real, where we laugh and celebrate, cry and mourn, worship and sing and pray and work and play and even eat, all in the presence of God. The places that we treat with reverence and respect are places where things of great magnitude have happened--unfortunately in this world, most of those things are great horrors--battlefields, the empty chambers of death camps and prisons. But they can also be places where great love and great sacrifice where shown, where great decisions were made. And what could be greater than a place where struggling humanity collapses into the arms of God?

Ceremonial reverence has it's place--the high ceilings, the stained glass, the dedicated sanctuary with it's holy platform and somber pews, but we must be careful that we don't allow a ceremonial worship space and a ceremonial reverence to make God into a ceremonial experience, something divorced from the reality and regularity of our ordinary lives. Sometimes, when reverence becomes strictly about grandness and ceremony, it's easy to feel that God is restricted to the church building and when we leave it behind we leave God behind as well--a duty that can be accomplished every Sabbath morning (and maybe Weds. night) and then forgotten until next week.

What makes a place sacred is when humanity meets God--it is His presence that sanctifies. By sole virtue of His presence, God took a patch of ordinary desert brush and turned it into holy ground. I like to think He does the same with our little auditorioum in Saipan. Our reverence is shown not so much in which activities we do or don't do in that space, but in the extent to which we remember that He is there.

1 comment:

Mr. Graves said...

Deep. Reverence is a rare thing. It's too easy to take the sanctuary for granted. Remember that the Temple Sanctuary was so holy that people could not even look at it. I think it's good that Jesus has changed things and made God more accessible. But it's sad when we take God for granted so much we lose the awe and respect He deserves when we come into His presence.