What is your understanding of sacred space? Is it the waterfront – with miles of sandy beach stretching out in both directions and a vision of mountains in the far distance? Is it the mountains, with its rugged trails that lead you ever higher in altitude, and ever deeper in silence and solitude? Is it your church narthex?
Wait . . . what?
A common quip is ‘I don’t need to go to the church to be with God, I can worship God as much on the golf course as anywhere.’ Have you heard this before? Have you spoken this before? Of course, this is true; God is indeed everywhere. This is one of the foundations of who we understand God to be. Scripture understands this reality intimately well. Yet the omnipresence of God never takes away from the reality of God’s special dwelling within a specific location. For wandering Israel, it was the tent of meeting; for established Israel it was the temple. Though God was everywhere, there was an understanding the Temple was sacred space, a space reserved for meeting God. Perhaps the most poignant expression of this is the 84th Psalm. The Psalmist begins, ‘How lovely is your dwelling place.’ Yes, the temple could be flawed and imperfect, sometimes baring the ugly side of human behavior, but still it is lovely. By definition it is infused with the presence of God and thus it is wonderful and magniﬁcent – a place where God sets God’s glory.
For the psalmist, if God’s presence is found in the temple in some magniﬁcent yet indescribable way, then there is no other place that he would rather be. ‘My soul yearns, event faints for the courts of The Lord, My heart, and my cry out for the living God.” The Psalmist describes an intense inner longing for this sacred spaces. Charles Spurgeon describes this as a feeling of holy lovesickness. Is that the way we see church?
Think about your travels to your church on Sunday morning; as you travel along a route so familiar, approaching the church building in those early hours of Sunday, do you expect that you will be in the presence of God? As you park your car and walk through the front doors, do you take a deep breath of anticipation, knowing that you have entered a sacred space? Do you anticipate that in the reading of scripture that you will hear God’s voice? Do you expect that, within the sermon, God will comfort, challenge, or call you? Do you believe that in communion of those who gather around you that the presence of God can be met and felt?
It is easy to see the church only in human terms. It is the place we come to sing religious songs, to hear Scripture read, to touch base with friends. But church, to truly be church, is much more than that. We come to be in God’s presence and to open up ourselves to divine activity. God is not just some passive observer in our religious services. The church, as a sacred space, declares the activity of God. God never naps in church. God is always moving, always active.
Are you needing good things in your life, whatever that may be? The Psalm declares God is sun and shield – God gives reinvigoration and life, as well as strength and protection. “As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs,’ the psalmist cries. The Valley of Baca is literally translated as the valley of weeping. Maybe there is sadness or mourning in your life? God’s presence is turns desolate places into a places of springs and autumn pools – teeming with refreshment and new life.
You may or may not come to church looking for God’s presence. You may or may not come to church feeling like you need God to act upon you, and for you, in some profound way way, but those two things are what deﬁnes the sacred place we call the church. Because God longs for us, God’s desire is that our time within the walls of the church be spent with a sense of holy intimacy, for just as we feel a holy lovesickness for God, so too God feels a holy lovesickness for us.
So next time you are in the church, I invite you to take a moment and open ourselves to God’s presence and feel the Spirit’s movement as you are drawn into the sacred space of holy intimacy.