Holy Places

Friday, October 21, 2011 — Week of Proper 24, Year One

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 988)

Psalms 31 (morning) // 35 (evening)

Ezra 3:1-13

1 Corinthians 16:10-24

Matthew 12:22-32

There are holy places that seem to draw us toward the transcendent. There are places in nature that take us out of ourselves and help us become open to awe and beauty. I feel fortunate to live in the Ozarks which abounds with such locations. With the changing leaves and pleasant October weather, it is a perfect time to visit God’s cathedral of creation.

Other holy places are made by hands in cooperation with the Spirit. There are certain rooms and buildings that elevate and silence us as we enter. That is something I feel when I enter my church. Many times I’ve walked inside our worship space to show it to someone unfamiliar with our life or tradition, and I’ve noticed their awareness. It is a special place. It inclines us toward the holy. Even visitors and strangers recognize it.

In Ezra we read of the laying of the foundations of the ruined Temple in Jerusalem. The priests have already restored the hours of prayer and worship in that holy place of prayer. Work has progressed to the point where once again there is a foundation upon which to build. Sixty years has passed since the Temple that Solomon built was destroyed. There is great rejoicing at this new beginning. There is also great mourning as those old enough to remember the grandeur of the former place contrast it with this modest beginning.

We don’t have to have great buildings to worship and pray. The Jewish people discovered this during their exile. I’ve been with worshipping people in hotel rooms, auditoriums, homes and other locations where the Spirit of prayer and worship was authentic and wonderful.

But the great temples made by hands do seem to be sacraments of stone or wood. The ones that feel holy appear to have been constructed as an act of devotion and sacrifice. They are outward and visible signs of great love and offering to God. The extravagance of art and beauty that they so often evidence sings of a desire to give extravagant love back to God. That love continues to inspire for generations and sometimes, even centuries.

I am so thankful to our ancestors in our community, who in the 1870’s, a time of post-war stress and depression, decided to build our place of worship, with wonderful cross beams and a high vertical ceiling. I wonder what the conversations were like for that Vestry. Did someone estimate the numbers and costs? How much might they have saved by lowering the ceiling, say ten feet? Somebody had to encourage some extravagance, some sacrifice to build it as it is. And now, 140 years later a stranger can walk in off the street and feel moved. Or any one of us can walk in and be drawn toward prayer that has been constant and present in this holy place for all of these generations.

The builders of the foundations of the Jerusalem Temple knew the significance of a holy place. Their story in Ezra and Nehemiah is a poignant one.


P.S. Paul ends this letter to the Corinthians today with his hand-written postscript. He writes the Aramaic word “maranatha.” Scholars believe it was an important word of faith for the early Church. The NRSV translates it “Our Lord, come!” which is the reading for marana tha. It can also be read “Our Lord has come!” — maran atha. The ancient manuscripts do not have spaces to distinguish between those readings. That’s worth thinking about.

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