I just finished reading The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. This is not the first time I’ve read it, but it is one I find it is beneficial to revisit every so often, and it’s a book I highly recommend. As he says in the book, “People in awe never complain that church is boring.” Neither will they find taking time to think deeply about God’s holiness boring.
I am not going to write a full review, but I did have some thoughts I wanted to share that I pondered as I was reading the last chapter today, which is titled, “Holy Space and Holy Time.” First, some quotes from that last chapter:
“The consecration of sacred space does not end with the close of the Old Testament. It is rooted and grounded in the act of creation itself, and something profoundly important to the human spirit is lost when it is neglected.”
“Each Sabbath day, believers observe sacred time in the context of worship. It is the keeping holy of the Sabbath day that marks the regular sacred time for the Christian. The worship service is a marking of a special liturgical time.”
“In sacred space and sacred time Christians find the presence of the holy. The bars that seek to shut out the transcendent are shattered, and the present time becomes defined by the intrusion of the holy. When we erect barriers to these intrusions, dikes to keep them from flooding our souls, we exchange the holy for the profane and rob both God of His glory and ourselves of His grace.”
Here’s what I got to thinking about. During the time when our church could not meet because of the COVID restrictions, we were blessed to be able to have the option to stream the service online. I am so thankful for the technology that allowed us to do this and for the care of our pastors, elders, and teachers who did their best to stay connected with the church family during that time. It wasn’t ideal, but it was the best we could do at the time. I understand the necessity for that time, and I completely understand the necessity for those who are at greater risk to continue to use that option now that we are able to cautiously and in a socially distanced way begin to meet together again physically. So, please don’t take what I’m about to say wrongly. Also, PLEASE do not come at me with the argument, “the church is not the building.” Seriously, that is NOT what I’m about to say, so don’t hear that, and don’t come at me with it. I got SO, SO tired of reading that on social media. It MISSES THE POINT of what those of us who were sad about not meeting together were trying to express.
During the time when we only had the online version of worship services, our family did our best to make that time special. We got up on time, got dressed, and set that time aside to watch and engage as best we could with the service on screen. But there was just something missing. It is just not the same. I couldn’t adequately describe what made it so very different, exactly, but this last chapter of The Holiness of God and the discussion of sacred space spoke to me deeply in light of what we’ve just gone through. That is what is missing. There is something profound and indescribably powerful about physically meeting together with the church that is deeper than merely keeping the elements of the service but watching on a disembodied screen. No, the church is not the building, it’s not that the bricks and mortar of the building itself are inherently sacred, but it is what we do when we gather there that makes it sacred space. And of course, even worshipping by screen when that’s the only option we have can be sacred, too, but the church is the people - specifically the people gathered together. And yes, when we neglect that setting aside of sacred time to worship together, there IS something profoundly important to the human spirit that is lost. Though I understand and support why we had to forego the gathering for a time, we DID miss something profound. The first Sunday we got to go back, even with masks and social distancing and much fewer people in the building, it was like a breath of fresh air and that profound something that we have when we gather together in that set apart, sacred time and space was rich. The holy just felt nearer.
No matter how much we tried to make the online Sundays sacred, the profane was somehow just still so near. The distractions were many, and it was just not the same.
There is something deep and profound that we gain when we are able to gather together and sense the energy of our church family all worshipping Jesus together. There is something deeply sacred that points us to our holy God in a way that we lose when we are denied the opportunity to set aside time and space for the sacred. We are embodied people and we experience this life with our physical bodies. There is just something other about setting aside time and space to focus our attention together on the Holy and sacred. We are bombarded all week with the temporal and profane, we need that set apart space and time to put away those distractions and be reminded physically and through our senses with singing and praying and hearing the Word preached to focus our attention on our Savior.
I’m not at all sure I adequately expressed what I’m pondering in this post. Boiled down, I am reminded to think carefully and prepare myself before I go to worship and remember that we are on holy ground because we are gathering to worship a holy God. I am greatly looking forward to getting to meet with my church family tomorrow morning, even if we have to wear masks and sit apart to make it happen. How thankful I am for the grace of God that sustained us during the months we had to be apart, and how very thankful I am now that we can meet together again.