By Rev. Mark+ Walz
What a great Sunday! Fall kickoff was fantastic and our time together in worship was moving, to say the least. One of the more enjoyable things we did was a guided service where we explained a little bit of what we do and why. At the heart of it is the idea of ‘liturgy’ — a work of the people. Our worship on Sunday mornings is not a consumeristic product we absorb, but a work we participate in. Namely, we gather to worship, which is a kind of work. And this work of worship radically changes our view point not only on our approach but even upon the room in which we work. It is a sacred space.
In the book of Exodus chapter 3, God meets Moses through a burning bush. But not only did He speak through this “great sight”, the space and place was filled with God’s presence. So much so, that God told Moses to take off his sandals “for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” It was a sacred space. And later, a similar incident occurred in the life of Joshua. He was told by the commander of the Lord’s army to take off his shoes “for the place where you are standing is holy.” These places were holy because God moved into its space, into the physical locality. God’s presence made it sacred.
It occurs to me that much of the Earth must have been ‘holy’ when it was first created. For God would walk upon the earth “in the cool of the day”. But then something changed when the Fall occurred. And since then, there has been a sort of separation between the earthly and the heavenly, between the physical and the spiritual. We feel it today. In the future, Heaven and Earth will exist together. God will remake everything with this as the end product. It is God’s intent to be with us forever physically and in reality.
Think about today. Do we believe in sacred space at all? And if so, do we think a space sacred only if God’s people are there? I mean, Jesus did promise that where two or more are gathered in His name He is there with us. Is this the only time? These are the two errors I see in modernity; either there is no such thing as sacred space, or that it is only so if and when we are gathered there. But can’t a place be sacred or holy without that? Scripture says ‘yes.’ God’s presence, and therefore His will, makes it so. If God makes a place holy, then is it not possible for an actual physical space to be holy without us? Maybe you still hesitate. I wonder what we feel then when we walk into a cathedral or a beautifully built church. Is it just awe or its beauty? Or is there something else going on? What about when walking into a graveyard or a mausoleum? A mountain top? Is there something sacred about those places? I will never forget scuba diving over a wreckage in the ocean and feeling very eerie about the whole thing. As I got into the water and made my way to the wreckage, in my mind, it went from a fun ‘trip’ or excursion to a time to be silent, reflective, even sad. ‘Hundreds of people perished here,’ I thought. That place is sacred, I can confidently say.
What does all this mean? I think for St Patrick’s at the very least it means that the space we occupy on Sunday mornings is a sacred space. But the physical things and space is sacred too, and remains so even when we are not there. There is a closeness of heaven and earth in that space that is difficult to calculate, a renewing of what was lost in the Fall but also an expectation of what will be in the end. Because of that, I would like us to take more serious not only the time we spend together in worship but also the space where we worship. We have been given an incredible gift to be able to worship in this new space. How may we as a worshiping community honor it and respect it like Moses and Joshua did. I don’t expect you to remove your shoes, but we ought to do something and be mindful of it. I believe it will prevent us from being too casual, too flippant, and maybe too consumeristic. Then maybe God will have a word for us as well. And that also makes it sacred.