Is There Anything That Is Sacred Anymore?

What makes something sacred? 

Something is sacred when it is more significant and important than us.  But let us be a bit more precise.  When something is sacred, it has a connection to the Creator – God. 

It is important to remember that there is a distinction between the Creator and the created.  Therefore, when it comes to mankind and the activities of mankind, we can classify the things of mankind as common.  Please keep in mind that common is not bad; it just isn’t sacred.  But when it comes to the Creator – our Triune God – we shift from the realm of the common to the realm of the sacred. 

So, if God is sacred, is this sacredness found only in heavenly dimensions away from the earth?  No, it is not.  We believe, teach, and confess that our Lord comes to interact with mankind.  The Lord comes to deliver the sacred forgiveness of sins, won on Mt. Calvary, through the Word and Sacraments.  Therefore, the Word and Sacraments should be considered as the Lord’s sacred things. 

But where do we find the Word and Sacraments – these sacred things of God – given and distributed to us?  They are mainly given to us in a church, during Divine Services. 

And so, as we look to the traditional architecture of churches, it becomes quite clear that there are both common places and sacred places within the church.  For example, the Fellowship Hall is a common place where people gather to visit, play games, have meetings, quilt, and eat food.  Whereas, the Nave and Sanctuary are sacred places where people gather to receive sacred things - the Word and Sacraments. 

Now, since most churches have Fellowship Halls that function as places where common things occur, and most churches have Naves and Sanctuaries where the sacred is found, it is important to understand that our response and demeanor change – depending on whether or not we are gathering in Fellowship Halls for common things or Sanctuaries for sacred things. 

Frankly stated, in the Fellowship Hall, one should expect a demeanor of the everyday, such as laughter, loud talking, busyness, eating, drinking, games, jokes, projects, and meetings, for this how life operates in the realm of the commonplace.  But what about the Nave and Sanctuary? 

The best and most proper response to the realm of the sacred within a Nave and Sanctuary is reverence.  Please keep in mind, though, that reverence is not necessarily being sad or serious.  Reverence is not being irritated or fearful.  Reverence is not being super-religious or overtly pious.  Reverence is not a disposition of cranky parishioners who are angry at the world or a prudish group of people who are reacting to the excesses of the world.  But instead, reverence is contained in one simple word – humility. 

But what exactly is humility? 

C.S. Lewis once said that humility is not thinking less of yourself but it is thinking of yourself less.  That is to say; humility is us not focusing on our idea, our projects, our jokes, our games, or our conversations.  So, what does this humble reverence look like in the nave and sanctuary?  What does it look like to think about ourselves less in a Divine Service?  The answer, humility, is us focusing on the sacred – the God of all Creation giving us His sacred Word and Sacraments. 

And so, reverence is us – in humility – approaching the altar with a contrite heart, in awe of his goodness which naturally closes our mouths and opens our ears to hear.  Humble reverence is the inward disposition of being ready to listen and receive sacred things!  Humble reverence is the understanding that we are the creatures, not the Creator, who have been given open ears to hear and open hands to receive good gifts from our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. 

For the pastor, reverence not only means humility, but it also means being prepared and orderly – rather than unprepared and flippant.  Reverence for the pastor means to be calm and stable, rather than 'speaking off-the-cuff .'  So, just as fine china is not tossed around flippantly like one tosses a football around, the sacred is handled differently in our churches. One does not make things up as they go along with sacred things, as if sacred things are an afternoon project in a garage. 

Therefore, since most church buildings have Fellowship Halls and Sanctuaries, it means that there will be laughter, eating, jokes, games, and busy projects within Fellowship Halls, as this is a natural response to a common-place environment.  Within the Sanctuary, reverence is the appropriate response to the sacred.  We should expect to find humility, open ears, and open hands from the parishioners, as well as preparedness and a calm demeanor from the pastor, in the Sanctuary. 

Two different realms: the common and the sacred.  They are not only different but should neither be blended nor blurred.  They are both good and right and salutary for Christians – good, right, and salutary in their proper contexts, both gifts of our loving heavenly Father. 

The disposition in response to the sacred echoes the words of the Psalmist in the cry of, "Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me ... the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." [Psalm 51:10] and the words our Christ quoted in Matthew 9, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." Therefore we get to understand that we approach the sacred, as those who shouldn't get to be invited, yet are.  Like little children allowed to play in the 'good living room' and touch the 'breakable things' we get to come in and receive God's good sacred gifts!

This article is taken from the January 2020 St. Paul's Newsletter.  

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