Thoughts on Place – Monday in Holy Week

SHW and I spent our weekend in the car.  We left after work on Thursday, spent the night in Jackson, MS, and arrived in Memphis, TN right about 1pm on Friday.  23 hours later, we hopped back in the car and drove 6.5 hours back home.  In between, we were blessed to celebrate with our dear friends, Bill and Jessie, and the good people of Saint Elisabeth’s Episcopal Church, Bartlett, TN as they opened their new building in the quickly expanding northern edge of Shelby County.

St. E's

The font and the people of God gathered Photo Credit: Justin Fox Burks

The Very Reverend Doctor Roger Ferlo preached a powerful sermon based, in part, on the story of Jesus turning the tables in the Temple, Mark’s version of which, we will hear read during our Evening Prayer service.  The whole experience of dedicating a new building in this day and age, coupled with Roger’s sermon and the text for tonight’s service have me thinking a lot about space.  The idea of building sacred spaces is certainly not a new phenomenon, but it is one that brings forth a lot of questions in our post-modern, post-religious society.

Saint E’s spent a lot of money building this new space.  Saint Paul’s is still paying off a mortgage on our education building.  The Vatican is exquisitely appointed with some of the finest artwork ever created.  Billions upon billions of dollars are spent around the globe building and maintaining Churches, Synagogues, Buddhist Temples, Mosques, Monasteries, and sacred spaces of all shapes and sizes.  And often, outsiders are left asking, “Why?”

I find some helpful insight into the why’s and why not’s in the story of Jesus turning the tables.  If you read carefully, the one thing Jesus does not do is decry the building of sacred spaces.  The Temple is an important part of the life, ministry, and worship of 1st century Judaism.  Sacred space ties a people of faith together, they are bonded in the coming together in a place, at a time certain, to worship their God.  Buildings facilitate community and community is necessary for spiritual growth.  What Jesus gets upset with in this story, is the ways in which the building has become the focus of religious obligation.  It is as if nothing good can happen outside the Temple, and no one who doesn’t fit the mold is allowed in.  The “house of prayer for all nations” had become a social club and trading floor for the elite and powerful in Jerusalem society.

Jesus was not impressed.

Over the course of the next seven days, Saint Paul’s will open its doors for worship no less than eleven times.  We will invite anyone and everyone, not just those who can pay or who look right or who act appropriately, to join with us as we walk the way of the cross with our Lord.  We’ll do our best, imperfect as it may be, to be a “house of prayer for all nations” and in so doing, try to live up to the high calling that is a sacred space.  I know St. E’s will do the same.  I pray your community of faith will as well.


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