Pastoral Series

Church Matters: Cathedrals

One more painting from my friend Leighton Ford (who’s with us at 6:30 tonight!), entitled “Cathedral on the Parkway.” These trees reminded him that Wendell Berry had described the trees on his farm as “a timbered choir.”

This painting reminded me of a section in my book Worshipful. After pondering church sanctuaries as sacred space, I asked, “Can your home, the one where you sleep, become sacred because you’ve attended to the sacredness of the more properly sacred place, the church? What would it be like to look at your house as a little replica of church, a place where God is a guest (or resident), where worship and prayer are common, where a wakefulness toward God happens? Some people fix up a little sanctuary, perhaps a prayer corner, at home. Most homes are organized around the high altar of the television. You might need to throw the thing out, or rearrange the furniture so you look at one another instead of those appealing strangers on Netflix.

Look around your house. Can you see a cross in a window frame or a wooden door? Can your dining room table become a replica of the Lord’s table at your church? If you’re building a new house, or just doing a few renovations, could you think of Psalm 127:1 (‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain’)?

By extension, what other spaces might become sacred for us? Your office? The elementary school? What about the local jail – which has the advantage of being the kind of place where Paul and Silas sang hymns, where Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote letters, and where Dietrich Bonhoeffer was martyred?

The sacredness of a holy place opens our eyes to see all places as holy. If you’re driving down a long road, you may perceive the overhanging trees as the soaring roof and buttresses of a great cathedral. Mountains and cliffs take on the aura of church balconies. A colorful sunset strikes you as another stunning stained glass window, filtering, refracting, and making vivid the very light and life of God.

Sanctuaries are everywhere – and not just out there, but even in your own body. Look at yourself in the mirror. Closely. You may well feel some kind of hollow place within. What if you understood that emptiness as a sanctuary God built into your soul, a holy space designed for a most sacred mystery? Didn’t Paul say your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)? Maybe, like some abandoned church, that sanctuary in you has been neglected; maybe weeds and accumulated dust are choking the place. You need to toss out the garbage and sweep the place. But it is there. There is a church building for you out there, and there is a little chapel, sitting empty, in the marrow of your being. Worshipful people feel the emptiness, and have good cause to say ‘The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.’”

Church matters – especially when it teaches us to discover churches everywhere.

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