Jul 13, 2011

Sacred space

Moses and the Burning Bush: St. Petersburg Cathedral

Ex 3: 1-6, 9-12

Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian.
Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb,
the mountain of God.
There an angel of the LORD appeared to him in fire
flaming out of a bush.
As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush,
though on fire, was not consumed.
So Moses decided,
“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight,
and see why the bush is not burned.”
When the LORD saw him coming over to look at it more closely,
God called out to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
He answered, “Here I am.”
God said, “Come no nearer!
Remove the sandals from your feet,
for the place where you stand is holy ground.
I am the God of your father,” he continued,
“the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.
The cry of the children of Israel has reached me,
and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them.
Come, now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people,
the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
But Moses said to God,
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh
and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
He answered, “I will be with you;
and this shall be your proof that it is I who have sent you:
when you bring my people out of Egypt,
you will worship God on this very mountain.”

A number of years ago, I believe back in the 1980’s, there was a very controversial television show by the name “Nothing Sacred.” The show created such a stir that after two or three episodes it was canceled. The story centered around a young Catholic priest who constantly pushed the envelope against authority. His personal life was questionable as far as relationships with women, he doubted his faith and vocation, and basically questioned the Church and Christianity about policies and practices. In light of today’s mood I’ve wondered how that show would be seen today? But, the point is that in some sense I think we either have lost or certainly are loosing any sense of the sacred.

I recently had an email from a very upset parishioner. They were not upset at me but at what they witnessed during a Sunday Mass. Apparently, next to this man was a woman who for whatever reason was writing checks – paying her household bills – during the readings of the Mass. She was oblivious to the power of the scriptures and as she sat she was looking at bills, applying stamps and return addresses, and licking envelopes with no regard for those around her. Thankfully, she evidently completed her bill paying by the time Eucharist was being distributed. He was shocked to say the least and wondered if he should have said something to her.

This Wednesday’s first reading from the book of Exodus finds Moses standing on holy ground before the angel (God) in the bush that is in flames but not burning up. God says to Moses, ““Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father,” he continued, “’the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.’” The place where you stand is holy ground. Could you imagine what God would have done if Moses stood there clipping his fingernails?

Our Churches are holy ground; Sacred space in which we encounter the living God who comes down to us in the power of his word and sacrament. I’m not advocating that we all remove our shoes and stand in stunned silence as we enter our Churches. But indeed I think we can never not remind ourselves too much what God has done for us and how we are invited into his very life. Sacred space whether in a Church or a personal place in your home should be regarded as different than your place of work or a movie theatre. It’s not the same.

In that sacred space we have an opportunity with the Church gathered to meet the living God through liturgy. We should be different, changed by the experience. Change can of course be a gradual thing but everything we do during the Mass does mean something. There are no idle actions from the beginning sign of the cross to the blessing at the end.

These summer months may give us time to stop and think about sacred space and reverence for others. Do I see the Church as that sacred space? Do I see my brothers and sisters as temples of the Holy Spirit?