The magnificent Notre Dame. firstname.lastname@example.org
Like many of you, I have been thinking about the value of a sacred space this week.
There are no adequate words to express my emotions as I watched the horrifying fire slowly envelop Notre Dame Cathedral. And, there are no adequate words to convey the grief over the destruction of three historically black churches in Louisiana, burned by hatred in late March and early April. The losses are incomprehensible.
This Lent, I have been reading 40 Days of Doubt: Devotions for the Skeptic by Eric Huffman. Each day, Huffman has been taking on difficult questions that Christians face. On Monday morning at 8:00 (my reading time) his question was “If Jesus Never Went to Church, Why Should I?”
In part he said,
…Jesus never said the word church…When he is quoted saying "church" in our English translations, what he really said was ekklesia, a common, secular word that meant "a gathering of people called out."
…People started getting the idea that Jesus’s ekklesia was a building with a steeple on top, instead of a gathering of people called out. That’s when things started going south, because once ekklesia became church, people began making three lethal assumptions:
The Church is a building…
…where Christians can feel safe and separate…
…and where priests and pastors provide for the spiritual needs of the people.
That morning, I was saying “amen” to Huffman’s words. He was right. The church is more about people being “called out” rather than “going into” a building with walls and a closed door. Power to the people – not buildings!
But at 10am I saw the news flash: “Notre Dame Cathedral is on fire.” Suddenly, I found myself heartsick and feeling ill…over a building.
This morning on NPR, Fr. James Martin helped me put into words why the loss of a sacred space, a sacred building, is so devastating. He said that being around beauty reminds you that people spent time “creating things for God and for other people to draw their eyes, hearts, and minds to God.”
Martin also reminded listeners that the church stands in the “middle of history.”
The church is a place where weddings, funerals, baptisms happen, and where fiery and quiet sermons move people to action. It is a place of transcendence where fervent prayers are lifted up and tears are shed. It is a place where both the rich and the poor can be moved and be changed and touched by God.
That building you feel awkward about including in your budget?
Remember its purpose:
To gather people to hear the Good News.
To let them have an experience of beauty that draws eyes, hearts, and minds to God.
To allow them to be transformed by the experience in sacred space.
And to be sent forth to live out the Gospel.
That’s the Easter message too. The resurrected Christ is “calling out” – ekklesia – all people who want to see and believe that the tomb is empty. May you have a transforming and meaningful Easter in your church this Sunday.
P.S. A “Go Fund Me” campaign for the three Louisiana churches has topped $1 million. Interested in making a donation? Go here.