The instructions of the Lord to Moses concerning the care and movement of the Tabernacle took me back to my time in seminary when I volunteered to be a sacristan. A sacristan is one who cares for the vessels and vestments and all things related to preparing the altar for Holy Communion. I knew it would be my future job as a priest to train altar guilds for that service so it seemed like a wise thing to learn as well as a worthy act of service.
Being a sacristan was all behind the scenes work. Cleaning and ironing linens, setting the altar, keeping up with supplies of bread and wine, all these acts were completed before the first person showed up for church. As the Kohathites knew, from that point of view it is a thankless job. Moses and Aaron had the high profile work while the Kohathites cleaned, covered and schlepped things around. I seriously doubt if anyone ever came up to them and said, “I really appreciate how well you removed the ashes from the altar.”
But it is in the very fact that it is behind the scenes, and often thankless work, that there is a sanctity to it. When I was ironing purificators, I was doing it as unto the Lord and not for people’s applause. This meant that my offering was coming from a heart not tainted by seeking praise or attention. It was offered as a simple act of love.
I particularly enjoyed being in a quiet and dark church as I set the altar. My mind would go back and forth from the Levites preparing their altar in the Exodus, to the women preparing Jesus’ body for burial. I would also think of the lessons of Brother Lawrence in his book, Practicing the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence thought that as a monk that he would be in perpetual communion with God before the Lord’s altar but he was also given a job and so what he had to learn also was how to be in communion with God while peeling potatoes.
The epiphany for me being a sacristan was that preparation for worship was itself worship. Setting up an altar and arranging hymnals may not have had an audience to bear witness to it, but it was done out of love and devotion and it was service offered to honor the Lord.
But then I wondered why this principle could not hold true for all the things that we do in response to God’s call on our lives. A busy mom or dad who sets the table and prepares a meal for their family, can be seen as doing something as sacred as the Kohathites, if they do what they are doing as unto the Lord. If they are serving their family out of love and have a heart filled with thanksgiving to God, how is that not as much as an offering as what a priest might make?
There is a constant temptation to keep things divided into sacred and secular. So it would be sacred to sing in the choir but secular to sing your child to sleep at night. But God’s intent is for the sacred to invade the secular through the form of His Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. As this Kingdom leavens our lives, then more and more of what we do takes on sacred meaning. The lines between sacred and secular fade and we see how whatever task God gives us, even if it is as lowly as removing ashes from the altar, has dignity as a sacred task.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col 3:17