Facing East: Ad Orientem

Ad Orientum

Q: Why does the priest celebrate with his back towards the people?

A: He doesn’t! He celebrates facing the Lord WITH the people.

There are two visuals that guide our orientation in worship. First is to visualize the altar as the Lord’s Throne and the tabernacle, which contains consecrated bread and wine, as His Real Presence. Thus when the celebrant prays with and on behalf of the congregation he should be facing the Lord with the people.

The second visual is to think of the altar as the end of the heavenly banquet table breaking into our time/space world. On the other side are the angels and archangels and all of the company of heaven i.e. the communion of the saints. If the altar is off the wall and the priest stands on the other side, facing the people, this important symbol is lost.

Lastly the priest faces the same direction as the people because he is not the host of this sacred meal. Christ is the Host and so with the priest not facing the people it is easier to look past the priest to our Host.

 

eucharist

 

“The Christian is a eucharistic worshipper of the saving love and mercy of God who has accepted him. He is steeped in gratitude and dependence. His very being is a Eucharist, a permanent perpetual thanksgiving to God.”….If Eucharist means thanksgiving, Christianity mean people who are joyfully grateful people.”  Brennan Manning

Our Present Duty

Bishop Frank Weston

Concluding Address, Anglo-Catholic Congress, 1923

By Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar

published by the Society of Ss Peter and Paul, London, n.d.

 

Our Present Duty

I have no manner of doubt that it is the present duty of every Churchman to send money across the seas for foreign Missions. But that is not the purpose of my being here to-night. I was asked to speak to you at the end of the Congress upon our present duty as Anglo-Catholics, and it is to that that I address myself. I am purposely not saying anything about the present duty of the Anglo-Catholic Congress Committee, for any views I may have upon that I hope to communicate to them to-morrow if they care to have them. My duty as Chairman is this—to try to sum up as clearly as I can the things that we have been learning, the things, at least, that I hope we have been learning during these three days.

Now to put it quite clearly our present duty as Anglo-Catholics is to make a far deeper surrender to our Lord Christ and to make it over a far wider area than ever before. We are to make such a surrender of self to Christ over the whole area of our life that were he to choose to come on earth to reign in his own person, neither you nor I would find it necessary to alter the principles upon which we conduct our work, our prayer, our worship. That is the point. Were he to come, our principles would not require to be altered.

I recall you and myself to him, and I want you first to listen to the call of the Christ of Bethlehem, eternal God made Man for you, made Man for me, Jesus the Babe of Bethlehem. I want you to listen to him as he leaps from the Father’s Throne across the gulf that separates the Creator from creation, across the gulf that separates holiness from sin. Listen to him as he leaps that gulf and appears in human form amongst us men. Listen to him as he speaks to you: By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to the other. I recall you to the Christ of Bethlehem and I suggest to you, as I suggest to myself, that it is our present duty to return into our own parishes and into our own dioceses and to see whether it is not possible to work out there the problems in the solving of which we seem to lose our love and to care only for ourselves. There in your own parish: and not in your parish only, but (shall we say?) in your rural deanery. There where you have the problem of the rich and the poor, the problem of the educated and the uneducated, the problem o£ the master and the man, the problem of the employer and the employed—there set yourselves, brethren, to work out the problem of fellowship. See if it be not possible that some of us may be called by our Lord to make a leap after the manner, however great a distance apart, of his; that we should come out of that in which we were born and make for ourselves a new life, if in any way we can help to build up the fellowship of man with man in Christ. I recall you to Jesus of Bethlehem. I challenge you to look up to Jesus of Bethlehem and summon him to move in and around your parish from altar to altar, from church to church. I challenge you to summon him. You dare not, and I dare not. When he comes we cry, “Lord have mercy.” We are ashamed. For when shall we be able to stand for him, as a family, round the parish altar with hearts and voices all in unison, and all raised to him? When? That is your problem. That is the first problem of the Anglo-Catholic Congress.

Now in this no-one can throw stones. There are individuals whose efforts must shine in the sight of the angels; but as a corporate body, no Communion, no Church, no Society, can claim to have done more than touch the problem. Brethren, if you ask me, your Chairman, what is your present duty I tell you that first. Get back into your parish, get back into your rural deanery, get back into your own diocese, and work out what Christian fellowship means. Make for yourselves such fellowship as shall not make you ashamed in the sight of Jesus. Do not ask me how it is to be done,—if I knew I would tell you. It is a problem; but it is a problem that Christ can solve if we will be true to him-a difficult and a ticklish problem. You cannot simply sweep away the social customs in which we have been born and bred, and God forbid that we should try. You cannot pretend to an equality of culture and an equality of taste and temperament which does not actually exist. But, if God leapt a gulf for you, I suppose that you can leap gulfs for God first. We are recalled to the Christ of Bethlehem, then, into fellowship.

And secondly–though I dared not if I had not been told to do it, for who am I that I should speak on present duty?—I recall you to the Christ of Calvary. I remind you, brethren, and myself; that the reality behind the Catholic Movement, the reality at the foundation of the Church of Christ, is the Man Christ Jesus and him crucified.

I remind you that the hope of your salvation and the justification of your claim to attention from the world is just the naked Christ of Nazareth, and to him I recall you. The Anglo-Catholic—a man, a woman—following after Jesus along the old Catholic path. Nothing more than that. The path is Catholic, but do not boast about your path. Fix your eyes upon him who goes before you: Jesus, the naked Christ. Brethren, I recall you then in his name to the imitation of his Passion in a degree that has become foreign to most of us. You must set yourselves, brethren, here in the midst of London to show people that it is perfectly possible to lead a happy, a wholesome, healthy life, developing your true manhood without in any way forsaking the simplicity which goes with the Cross of the Christ of Nazareth; that you shall live simple lives, that you shall fight against luxury, that you shall encourage the rich to set a limit to the amount of money that they will use upon themselves, that they will do it not under pressure from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but out of personal devotion to him, Jesus.

And I would say this. I would venture to say to my brethren in the Ministry that the priesthood of which we Anglo-Catholics talk a very great deal implies a strictness and a sternness in the following of Christ that is sometimes sadly to seek. We want, we Priests, really to believe that we are consecrated to give our wills to Jesus, and in giving our wills to lay ourselves body and soul in his hands that he may do what he will with us. And therefore we have to be extremely careful to shut ourselves in from those things in the world that so easily distract our minds from him. We must have a far stricter standard, a far sterner following of Christ. For the Christ of Calvary calls you.

Brethren, consider. We meet and we count our thousands now; and had we an Altar that we might offer our Mass here, how glorious we should think it. But when you have followed the naked Christ, now glorified, and in the sacramental presence pleaded his cause before the Father, where is the sternness, where is the strictness, where is the self-sacrifice in us, the ministers, the acolytes and worshippers at the altar? Naked, yet glorified: that is the picture of him in his sacramental presence; and we well we know what we are. And beyond that call to us, the ministers, there are those yet awaiting their vocation; these are young men, there are boys, young women, girls; and life is opening out. What has the Christ of Calvary to say to you? What is the duty of the Anglo-Catholic Movement with regard to them? We want the young men in the Priesthood, if God calls them: we want the women in the Religious Life, we want them in the work of teaching for the Church: we want men and women, Priests and other workers abroad in the Foreign Mission field. But where are they? Why do they not come? Because we are not yet recalled to the Christ of Calvary—there is no other reason. And I put it to you who are parents and you who hope to be parents hereafter—I put it to you, what has the Christ of Calvary to say to you? Nothing? Do you remember how he reached his Cross? Do you forget whom it was he left that he might climb his Cross? Do you forget how his Mother was bidden to be content to live with the Beloved Disciple? And you fathers and mothers, cannot you give to Jesus some of what he has given to you? Dedicate them; rejoice that they should go into the Religious Life. Look only at the Catholics in Ireland—five or six of the family in the Priesthood and in Religion. Look at the numbers of men and women in a French household who are in the Priesthood and in Religion. Then look at your English homes. I recall you to the Christ of Calvary—listen to him, brethren.

And I want, if I may, to make one other point about Calvary. I want you Anglo-Catholics to consider how you are going to make that picture of Christ real to the world, unless religion can be presented to people as a matter of discipline. We want all the love, and the Christ of Bethlehem will secure that. We need the self-sacrifice, and the Christ of Calvary will do that. Now what about the discipline? You know you move in an atmosphere of obedience. Ideally, as I step out to go to the altar of God, I go in definite obedience to Holy Church to offer the Sacrifice of Christ’s obedience. Now I ask you, in the ordinary Anglo-Catholic Church how much obedience is there? Now, mark you, I am not asking for obedience to a Bishop. I ask for obedience to the Bishops in so far as they themselves obey the Catholic Church. Please don’t try to applaud. I am not making a point. I am talking to your souls. If you want my opinion of your present duty, I want you to get nearer to those English Bishops who do understand a little, and I want you to make it clear to them that it is becoming intolerable to you that your daily and Sunday Masses should be without that consecrating sense of obedience lying heavy on the Priest from the moment he begins to vest until he has completed the Mass and said his thanksgiving. And I want you to plead with the Bishops that they shall believe you, and that with you they shall try and see how you shall arrive at some understanding that shall be covered by the practice and the custom of the Catholic Church. I would never ask a Priest to obey the dicta of a Bishop. I have been a Bishop for fifteen years, and I do not think I have ever asked a priest simply to obey my opinion; but I always beg of them—and they listen—that when we are agreed that this is Catholic, and this is useful, and this is what is needed, then they obey. Even if they do not always agree, they obey.

And you lay people, what about Confession? Are you going to obey about that? How long are you going to hold back before you make your confessions to God in God’s Church in the presence of God’s Priests? How long are you going to hold back from acknowledging your corporate guilt and your responsibility to the Church? Or fasting. Do you fast? Do you know what it means really to fast? We have not learned it yet in England, and now we are beginning to look for dispensations from fasting and talking about gentacala and other most deceiving things. There is a sort of air of softness about us; and Jesus calls you. What does it matter if you get a headache when you are representing Calvary before the Father? Would you want to feel especially well and buoyant as you came from the contemplation of the Christ of Calvary? Brethren, you know you would not.

And my last point is this. I recall you in the last place to the Christ of the Blessed Sacrament. I beg you, brethren, not to yield one inch to those who would for any reason or specious excuse deprive you of your Tabernacles. I beg you, do not yield, but remember when you struggle, or, as Father Frere told us to-day, when you fight for the Church—do remember that the Church is the body of Christ, and you fight in the presence of Christ. Do not forget that. I want you to make your stand for the Tabernacle, not for your own sakes but for the sake of truth first, and in the second place for the sake of reunion hereafter. But for the truth, because the one great thing that England needs to learn is that Christ is found in and amid matter—Spirit through matter—God in flesh, God in the Sacrament. But I say to you, and I say it to you with all the earnestness that I have, that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum.

Now mark that—this is the Gospel truth. If you are prepared to say that the Anglo-Catholic is at perfect liberty to rake in all the money he can get no matter what the wages are that are paid, no matter what the conditions are under which people work; if you say that the Anglo-Catholic has a right to hold his peace while his fellow citizens are living in hovels below the levels of the streets, this I say to you, that you do not yet know the Lord Jesus in his Sacrament. You have begun with the Christ of Bethlehem, you have gone on to know something of the Christ of Calvary—but the Christ of the Sacrament, not yet. Oh brethren! if only you listen to-night your movement is going to sweep England. If you listen. I am not talking economics, I do not understand them. I am not talking politics, I do not understand them. I am talking the Gospel, and I say to you this: If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.

There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.

 

 

Hypocrite?

hypocrite

Texts 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10; Galatians 2:11-21; St. Luke 7:36-50

Fill in the blank. “No I don’t go to church, it’s filled with too many _______.

You guessed it, “hypocrites.” The response to that statement that I would like to give, but never have is, “Well if it is filled with too many hypocrites then one more won’t really matter will it?”

I believe that this is such a common excuse for two reasons. First is because they are partially right, there are indeed hypocrites in the church. But second they offer this excuse because they don’t really know what a hypocrite is. Let’s tackle the second reason first.

People outside the church think that we are hypocrites for coming to church, claiming to be followers of Christ, when the truth is that we sin all the time. They mistaking think that we think that we are perfect. How can a sinner claim to be a Christian? Doesn’t that by definition make you a hypocrite?

The short answer to that is “no it does not.” Our gospel lesson clarifies this for us. While he doesn’t use the word ‘hypocrite” that was the Pharisee’s attitude toward the woman who was anointing and kissing Jesus’ feet. She is referred to in the text as “a sinner” and you can fill in the blank what that meant. So the Pharisee believed that she has no right to be in Jesus presence. Given who she was it seems hypocritical for her to be worshipping Him.

We get the word “hypocrite” from the Greeks and they used it for someone who acts in a play. It is wearing a mask or pretending to be someone else. Was this woman wearing a mask or pretending to be someone else? No. She was so broken that she was bathing Jesus’ feet with her tears. She knew that she was drowning and so she came to the only One who could save her. Calling her a hypocrite for being a sinner who comes to the Savior is like calling someone with a deadly illness a hypocrite for going to the hospital. Where else are they supposed to go?

Instead of being offended by her the Pharisee should have been filled with admiration for her. Not for her sin of course but for her courage. She obviously came uninvited because Pharisees don’t invite sinful women into their homes. And without permission she touches this Rabbi. In the eyes of the Pharisee the touch of this morally unclean woman would have made Jesus ceremonially unclean. Then in incredible humility she wets His feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. This is an astonishingly intimate act between two strangers, particularly in that era and culture. But there is nothing hypocritical going on here. This is a prodigal daughter coming home; a prodigal daughter being forgiven much and loving much.

The example of hypocrisy that we do have before us is that of St. Peter in the lesson from Galatians. St. Peter came to visit Antioch, which was St. Paul’s base of operation. The church in Antioch was mixed with both Gentile and Jewish believers in Christ and so when they took meals together St. Peter would sit with the Gentiles as well as the Jews. But then an ultra conservative faction arrived from Jerusalem. These were called “the circumcision faction” because while they were believers in Christ, they continued to keep the law of Moses which included circumcision and laws of purity. The laws of purity included what you could and could not eat and with whom.

St. Peter for fear of his reputation rejected the Gentiles and St. Paul says, “And the other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” St. Paul rightfully took great offense at this and publically rebuked St. Peter.

Was this the right thing to do? Yes it was for two reasons. First, because leaders incur a stricter judgment. The Scripture says that when a leader persists in sin he is to be rebuked in the presence of all so that the rest may stand in fear (I Tim 5:19,20). But secondly consider what St. Peter’s actions were conveying. By once again observing the purity laws St. Peter was in essence saying that he believed the he can be justified by the law. St. Paul objects, “if justification comes through the law then Christ died for nothing.” This is not a debate over using the 1979 verses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. We are talking here about the essence of the gospel and so St. Paul was not only right to defend it, as an Apostle he was required to do so.

So as we can see by St. Peter’s example, the criticism that there are hypocrites in the church is a valid one. The question before each of us then is how we go about making the church have one less.

The first thing that we can do to avoid hypocrisy is to avoid being a man pleaser. A man pleaser puts on different masks and goes along to get along and that is the very definition of hypocrisy. It is only natural to want to have people like you otherwise you turn into Ebenezer Scrooge. But we need to have clear limits on that desire.

In today’s world it is all about not offending someone as if giving offense somehow has turned into a capital crime. An article in the New York Times last March reported that Universities are now creating what they call “safe spaces.” These are places that students can go to recover when they feel threatened by ideas and beliefs that differ from theirs.

As Christians we should err on the side of love and respect but if you make it your goal to never offend anyone, especially today, then you will fail as a disciple of Christ and turn into a man pleaser. Jesus told us flat out that they will hate us because they hated Him and they hated Him because they were offended by the truth that He proclaimed.

We need to get past the fear of being offensive. It’s not like anything happens to someone when they are offended. They don’t wake up the next day with a terminal disease. I saw a great post on Facebook of young men hitting the beaches of Normandy on D Day and the caption was “young men of college age leaving their safe spaces.” Here is a reality check. If my faith offends you then prepare to be perpetually offended because I am not going to hide my light under a bushel and I will not be bullied into calling evil good. This is the stand we must make as Christians.

How do we get past being a man pleaser? We do so by focusing on being a God pleaser. In the previous chapter in Galatians, St. Paul put it this way. “For am I now seeking the approval of man or of God. Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

The woman in the Gospel story did not care if the Pharisee would be offended or if his guests would be offended, she only cared about what Jesus thought. She is our model.

Closely related to ridding ourselves of man pleasing is to rid ourselves of our reputations. It was concern for his reputation that had Peter act so inconsistently. He was concerned what the Jewish brethren would think of him if they saw him eating with the Gentiles and so he acted contrary to the Gospel.

But what we see in Jesus is a refreshing lack of concern for His reputation. When people opposed or rejected Him He did not say, “Do you have any idea who I was before I took on flesh and became a man?” Instead He humbled Himself and became a servant and sought people and loved people in ways that totally offended the religious leaders. We see this Pharisee saying to himself, “If this guy had any idea who it was that is touching him….” and instead of defending His reputation, He defended her. Then with no concern for what others might think of Him He forgives her sins and leaves the people at the table saying, “Who does this guy think that he is forgiving people’s sins?” It was being free of defending His reputation that allowed Jesus to do the right thing for this woman.

So how do we get beyond defending our reputations? St. Paul shows us in this lesson. He says, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is not longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.”

If we have been crucified with Christ then it means that we have died. We have several saints buried back in our columbarium. How many of them do you think are worried today about their reputations? So we get beyond defending our reputation by being dead to self.

But we need to add that we are also called to be united to Christ and live by faith in Him who loved us and delivered Himself up for us. As we die to self and as we grow in our union with Christ, our chief concern becomes His reputation, His glory, His kingdom and concerns for our own reputations fade away.

A third way that we avoid hypocrisy is to avoid legalism. We don’t face the same purity laws that St. Peter did but over time the Church has filled herself with rules that only serve to force people into hypocrisy.

A couple of years ago I was on vacation and several clergy from another denomination invited me to join them for lunch. At first I wasn’t going to go because I was on vacation and didn’t want to feel like I was on a busman’s holiday. I reconsidered but I stayed in vacation mode. I was unshaved, dressed in very casual clothes and when it came time to order I ordered a beer. When it was delivered the other clergy looked longingly at it and started talking about their favorite drinks. But they added that they only drink when they are out of town lest any of their parishioners see them. ??????????? Now I understand someone having a conviction that a Christian should not drink but I don’t understand their line of thinking. It’s not much of a conviction if it doesn’t apply when you are out of town. That is just a legalistic rule or perhaps more man pleasing.

But worse than making you act hypocritically, as we saw with St. Peter, legalism is an assault on the Gospel. To paraphrase St. Paul, if we think that rules will make us acceptable to God then Christ has died for nothing.

What makes legalism such a trap is that Christians often get into it for the best of intentions. They want to live lives that honor God. They want to walk in the right path and so they conclude,“ just tell me what the rules are and I will follow them.” But that is how you end up becoming like the circumcision faction that came to Antioch. Their intentions to be pleasing to God were good but as one author said of them, “by struggling to appropriate God’s power to change them, they are not resting in God’s power to save them.”

Let me repeat that quote;“by struggling to appropriate God’s power to change them, they are not resting in God’s power to save them.” I found that quote extremely convicting. I cannot tell you, over the course of my life, how much time I have wasted struggling to appropriate God’s power to change me rather than resting in His power to save me. And while I know that God can even work that mistake for my good, I would be beyond thrilled if I could just save one of you from wasting the time that I have it wasted in various forms of legalism. Trust me when I say that it is a more joyful life to rest in the power of God to save you.

Truth is, as long as we have this battle going on between the Spirit and our flesh we are going to have our hypocritical moments. But we don’t have to remain in that condition. St. Peter didn’t. He accepted St. Paul’s rebuke. In Acts 15 we read of a council that gathered to deal with this conflict between the circumcision faction and the Gospel of grace being preached by St. Paul. After much discussion it was St. Peter himself who rose and said these words. “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

St. Peter’s words and the Gospel of grace won the day. A potentially disastrous schism in the church was avoided. The church could have split into two and then faded into history. But grace triumphed. It is this Gospel of grace that invites all of us today to rest in the power of God to save us. All are welcome. Sinful women, judgmental Pharisees, Apostles who temporarily stray from the truth and even we hypocrites. The One who loved us and delivered Himself up for us will in no wise turn us away. Amen.

Sacred Space

Holy Space

Text Psalm 96

“Oh the majesty and magnificence of His presence

Oh the power and the splendor of His sanctuary” Ps 96:6

One of the babies that Protestantism has thrown out with the bath water is the idea of sacred space. I have done weddings and funerals where the preponderance of those attending are not Anglicans. They will sit in consecrated space and gab and laugh aloud with one another like they were sitting in a bus station. You have to play music or make an announcement to have them find their seats and settle down. I have been to a church where they have a coffee bar set up in their narthex and folks bring coffee into the worship service like they were bringing soft drinks and popcorn into a movie.

It used to be that when you went to Europe it was a horse of a different color. When you walked into those sacred spaces, that have been places of worship and prayer for centuries, you were reminded to talk only in a whisper and to dress modestly. Sadly as Europe has become increasingly secular even those traditions are going by the wayside.

Is this really that big of a deal? I believe it is. A loss of the concept of sacred space adds to the leanness of our souls because it disconnects an important link between this world and the next. Sacred space is like a sign that points to a greater reality and when you ignore the sign then you lose site of that greater reality.

That is why the temple was so important to the Jews. It was a place where heaven and earth met. The physical sanctuary pointed the way to the heavenly sanctuary. Sacred space is so important to the Jews that to this day Orthodox Jews will face Jerusalem when they pray. Years ago I was flying out of Tel Aviv and as we were taking off an elderly man decided it was time to pray and he stood up and turned around to face Jerusalem. He ignored every appeal to take his seat and eventually three stewardesses had to sit on top of him and hold him down so that he would be safe during takeoff. That may be taking it a bit far but I admired his convictions.

Before you dismiss the idea of sacred space as a man-made tradition that no longer applies to us as Christians, I invite you to consider several things. First recall that it was not Moses or Aaron who dreamed up the tabernacle. The tabernacle was God’s plan and God’s design. In essence God told Moses, “This is how you will worship Me and this is where you will worship Me.” And by ordaining a sacred space to be set up in the very center of the tribes God revealed how greatly He longed to dwell with His people. He was not some far off god sitting atop Mount Olympus rather He was slap dab in the middle of them in their daily lives. Sacred space reminds us of that greater reality.

While God did not give the same instructions to Solomon, the temple that Solomon built was acceptable to God because it was essentially a permanent tabernacle. The tabernacle was portable because they were moving through the wilderness en route to the Promised Land. But once they were settled in the Promised Land, sacred space no longer needed to be portable. God honored what Solomon built. We read in the next chapter after today’s reading. When Solomon had finished building the temple of the Lord and the royal palace, and had achieved all he had desired to do, the Lord appeared to him a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. The Lord said to him: “I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.” Sacred space was God’s idea and therefore honored by God.

A second thing to consider is how our Lord honored sacred space. He was taken to the temple as an infant and again as a young boy. It was in the temple at 12 years old that He engaged the elders and told His parents that He was about His Father’s business. As a grown man He worshipped in the temple when He was in Jerusalem. What is very telling is His outrage over the money-changers in the temple. What did He say? Quoting Isaiah He said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” He called the temple His house. The money-changers and sellers of sacrificial animals had desecrated His house and Jesus was not going to have it. There would be no Starbuck’s in the temple!

A third thing to consider about sacred space is that it matches how God has made us. We are not some disembodied spirits floating in the Universe. We are material beings in a material world. And so it only makes sense that our worship would involve sight and sound and taste and touch and space. It borders on Gnostic dualism to think that our faith is only about ideas in our minds and that is all that we need.

When God ordained priests in the Old Testament to be vested and a laver full of water for cleansing and the burning of incense and the making of showbread and burning oil in the menorah, who was that for? He has no need for these things. It was all for us, so that we can engage with all of our being in worship. “Let all that is within me bless His holy Name.” Sacred space helps us do just that.

Look, we get it more than most churches that God can be worshipped anywhere because we worshipped in a school cafeteria for about 5 years. I was grateful we had a place to meet but I don’t miss it, not one bit. It is so much easier to enter into His courts with praise when you don’t have to spend half of your energy ignoring the coke machine that fires up every 10 minutes. So I believe when Jesus told the woman that it did not matter if you were in Jerusalem or on this mountain in Samaria to worship God that He was negating the need to be in a particular location to worship rather than negating our need for sacred space. In other words as an Anglican I don’t have to go to Canterbury to worship. Bethel can be right here in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, but still I need a Bethel.

God has given us tangible ways to connect with Him because He has made us tangible beings. People in the New Testament did not connect to God by offering a silent prayer and inviting Him into their hearts. Their faith was not just an intellectual exercise. They were washed in the waters of baptism and they ate His flesh and drank His blood. The early Christians continued to worship in the synagogues until they were put out. From the moment that Christianity was no longer illegal, sacred spaces were created all over the world, spaces dedicated to the worship of the Triune God. And because of what the psalmist calls “the beauty of holiness” they made them as beautiful as they could possibly afford. I found it very moving when I read in seminary of Anglo-Catholic priests in the 19th century that took parishes in the poorest sections of London and built some of the most beautiful churches so that at least once a week the poor could step out of their drab factory lives and be refreshed by a taste of heaven.

Let’s take this a step further. If sacred space is a sign that points to a greater reality, then what is that reality? Let me read you a wonderful story that I found on the Internet that explains it.

The gravel parking lot around St. John’s began to fill early that morning. The shadow from the steeple cast the image of a cross on the western side of the church. Families from miles around climbed out of Fords and Chevrolets to make their way into the sanctuary. The pastor stood by the front door to greet folks. He asked about Aunt Susan’s broken hip, the Reynold’s new horse, and how the football game turned out in Sunray the other night.

The man of God who shepherded this flock wasn’t much to look at. He had a bit of a gut. And he laughed too loud, especially at his corny jokes. But they loved the man. He had baptized their children, buried their grandparents, and even preached a decent sermon on occasion. 

By the time worship was ready to begin, it still hadn’t happened—that shocking influx of worshipers I spoke of. In fact, things looked as ordinary as ordinary could be.  

The Kirkpatricks, with their five children, squeezed into the next-to-last pew. The spinster organist, Ms. Schultz, played softly and hit, well, almost every note. Hymnals were opened to the page where the service would soon begin. 

At 10:30 sharp, Pastor Baker walked up front and spoke the same words he did at the start of every Sunday service, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And the congregation responded with a hearty, “Amen!”

Then, without any warning, it happened. The floodgates opened. Worshipers streamed in. Before the congregation had finished saying, “Amen,” this rural Texas minichurch was transformed into the mega of megachurches.

Here’s how it all went down.

Through the stained glass windows and the steeply pitched roof, seraphim swooped down from heavenly perches. Each sported six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And around the sanctuary they chanted one to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” The foundations of St. John’s quaked at the sound of their voices. The whole church swam with the smoke of incense.

But that was only the beginning. Cherubim winged their way down from the heavenly city. Not the cute, chubby Precious Moments’ angels, but manly warriors who stationed themselves like sentinels around the sanctuary. They belted out the words to the hymns, added their Amens to the divine words read and preached that day.

But the angels were not alone. With them came saints innumerable. Men and women who had fought the good fight, finished the race, and gone on to glory. But here they were, back at St. John’s on this Lord’s day. They added their voices to the earthly choir of farmers and ranchers and coaches and teachers who still trod the pathway toward the heavenly Jerusalem.

The pews were packed. Standing room only in the aisles. Some perched on the rafters and peered down with serene gazes upon the altar. There, wonder of wonders, was a throne. And on that throne stood a Lamb, slain yet alive, sacrificed but resurrected. Every face of every worshiper, angelic and human, earthly and heavenly, was fixated upon his face. There they looked upon the countenance of the merciful Almighty.

With angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, the people of St. John’s lauded and glorified the name of that Lamb, their Lord Jesus, that day. Sacred songs shook the building as the choirs wed their voices. The Lord’s Supper was a reunion meal. The folks on earth and the saints in heaven dined on the feast of feasts and the drink that slakes the deepest thirst.

It was a day to remember. A day to repeat. The following Sunday it would happen again. And then again. This tiny rural church would bulge at the seams with worshipers from realms seen and unseen, all mixed together in the adoration of the Lamb whose kingdom is without end.

 That’s how a small, country congregation became a megachurch overnight. Without even trying. They gathered around the word of Jesus, ate his meal, sang his songs. And Jesus showed up, every Sunday, with all of heaven along for the ride.

It is not an accident that Christians who have little regard for sacred space also have little regard for the communion of the saints. And it is no accident that the opposite is also true. Much of what is called worship today is instead the manipulation of people’s emotions through music or tickling their ears by telling them what they want to hear. It is also not an accident that Christians who have abandoned the sign have also forgotten where it is pointing. Worship is replaced with meeting my needs and how I feel and seeing if I get anything out of it. That is why so much of praise music is more about the singer than the One to whom they should be singing.

True worship is focusing on the Lord rather than on ourselves. It is blending our voices with angels and archangels and all of the company of heaven as we focus on the Lamb. True worship is where earth meets heaven and heaven meets earth and that has absolutely nothing with me getting my needs met. Inevitably they are but that is a consequence and not a goal.

The ultimate sacred space to which the earthly tabernacle and the temple and all sacred spaces point is the heavenly Jerusalem. But again this is no Mount Olympus. It descends to earth! This is what St. John writes, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” 

Our hope as Christian is that one day all things will be made new and that all space will be sacred space. Our hope is that once and for all He will be our God and we will be His people. The meal that you are about to receive is a foretaste of that day. So come, eat and drink…….just don’t bring your coffee.