“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good.
And God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”
– Genesis 1:3-5
The world has just begun and already the Lord is separating and designating. He creates light, separates it from the darkness, and designates the light for day and the darkness for night. Then he separates waters from air, and then waters from land. Each designated for a purpose and each filled with different forms of life - birds for the air, creeping things for the ground, fish for the seas.
Fast forward to the second half of the book of Exodus and you find the Lord giving the Israelites instructions for constructing the Tabernacle - a special place, separated and designated for a special purpose - the Lord’s presence with His people.
Keep moving through the Old Testament and you will read about God’s people moving into the Promised land and King Solomon building the Temple in Jerusalem.
What is going on? From the beginning of creation - God, it seems, does not treat every atomic particle in the same way. Some things and some places are special, set-aside, holy, sacred.
Follow through into the New Testament, and you will discover Jesus taking ordinary things, separating them out from the rest and designating them for special purposes. River water for baptism, loaves and fish feed a multitude, tepid water becomes wedding reception wine, mud is used to restore a blind man’s sight, ordinary bread and wine become Holy Communion.
What is going on? It’s New Creation - God (in the Jesus) is not treating every bit of creation in the same way. Some things and some places are special, set-aside, holy, sacred.
We, as members of the family of God, are one of these bits of creation that is special, set-aside, holy, sacred. Though we may not feel it much of the time, we ourselves are separated out from the rest of humanity and designated for a special purpose - to be the body of Christ proclaiming our Lord’s death and resurrection. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. - 1 Peter 2:9
Therefore, the place where the church gathers to worship, to pray, to baptize, and to celebrate Communion becomes a sacred space. So whether the church gathers to worship in a gothic cathedral or a school cafeteria - that space becomes sacred. What makes a church sanctuary sacred is not the pews or the stained glass windows - it is the New Creation reality that the space is now different from other spaces and designated for a special purpose.
Why are we talking about this? Because we live in a rather unique moment in history where our culture seeks to flatten all spaces into generic sameness. You might imagine a house or office with an open floor plan - no separation between spaces for cooking, eating, socializing, working, or sleeping. I can now sit in my sofa with a plate of nachos, my laptop open to my email, Netflix on the TV, and a family member seated next to me. I’m eating/drinking/working/resting/socializing simultaneously!
Now, this isn’t morally wrong. Open floor plans are beautiful and, at best, lead to a wonderful sense of togetherness at home and at the office. But what is lost is specialness - a knowing of how to move and talk and act differently in different spaces.
And in the midst of this tension between a sacramental world with it’s contoured landscape of both sacred and common spaces, and an increasingly secularized world with a flat landscape of only common spaces - we are raising a new generation of Christian children! What a marvelously difficult and complex task! We long for our kids to experience the beauty and love of Christ for them and we worry that too many rules, and too much behavior correction will squash their enjoyment of church worship and community. Many of us parents are terrified of hearing our kids say those four dreaded words, “Church is not fun.”
So what are we to do? Consider this: our children are, in fact, observing us. There are few things more powerful to a young child than seeing their Mom or Dad enjoy something. In other words, adults - what you love will have a powerful shaping effect on what your children love. If you find church worship to be stuffy, boring, stiff, and fun-squashing; odds are your kids will pick up on that despite your best attempts to convince them that this is good for them. On the other hand, if your soul is truly nourished and refreshed by entering a sacred space and you begin to share that enjoyment with your children, inviting them to experience it with you; then you will open for them an entirely new way of interacting with the world that they will not find anywhere else.
Encouragement: And here’s the thing, many of you are already doing this in other places and you might not even realize it! When you say to your child, “No smart phones at the kitchen table,” or “No food in the bedroom,” you are implicitly teaching your children that not all spaces are the same. And you don’t feel badly about it for a second because you love your kids and you know that phones at the table will kill family conversation and food in the bedroom will invite the rodents.
So why do we experience that twinge of guilt when we tell our six year old that she can’t play tag in the sanctuary after the service? My guess is that most of us are just a little fuzzy in our own minds about what makes a sanctuary special. We’ve heard somewhere along the way that the Holy Spirit is present with us all the time and that we are to worship God throughout the week and not just on Sundays (both true). However, instead of allowing those truths to elevate the importance of Monday-Saturday, we’ve allowed it to devalue Sunday. Instead of allowing Christ’s presence with us to enrich the rest of life, we’ve allowed it to deplete corporate worship.
And so Sunday becomes just another day and the church sanctuary just another room.
Beloved friends, redeemed men, women, and children - Sunday is not just another day and wherever we gather for worship as the family of God is not just another room. Both are sacred because Christ is risen and is making all things new.
In the Father’s love,