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The De-Sacralization of Space and Time

No, not a reversal of a condition of the L5 vertebra of the spine. Bigger than that. The concept has been around longer than the terminology of the medical condition too. It refers to the divesting of our life context of all things sacred. It's to secularize as opposed to making sacred, to pull something back from a set-apart status (for holy usage) to the ordinary usage of the commonplace and everyday. Or a bit more simply: it's to lose our sense of the holy.

Of course, there is an equality to the things of creation – God made it all good. Of course, God can be present anywhere to anyone in any circumstance. And yes, God fills all of heaven and earth with His glory. I suppose in some sense then all could be said to be holy. It's all for God's glory and all for His purposes. But that's not usually how we speak of holy things. Even to speak as in the preceding is to render the word 'holy' as practically meaningless (see comment from Syndrome below – in this context, would be “if everything is holy, then nothing is”).

I am attempting to get at something that struck me in a recent conversation about baptism. We just purchased a new (to us – it was previously at another church) marble baptismal font. It's beautiful. And heavy. Substantial in both of those ways. It may not be the best out there, but it's the best we can do at this time in our church's life. And that's the gist – we should be offering God the best of all we are and all we have. All the time. Why? Because by doing so we declare God's matchless worth. He is worth it. He is worthy of more than the leftovers and the afterthoughts.

Prior to this purchase we had been using a ceramic pitcher and and a ceramic bowl placed on an end table like you might find in a den or living room. It was functional and not ugly or lacking in all aesthetics, but it was a bit too ordinary. It didn't quite communicate the weight and glory (the significance) of baptism to the degree that I would have preferred. But as I was comparing the new font to our previous items of service, my friend commented, “I suppose it does the job about the same as anything else.” She was basically equating the two fonts. They both held water. They both could get the task of baptism done. And then she said, “You know, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.” I took that comment in two ways: 1) “None of this fancy stuff is necessary. The rivers and streams God created serve the task better anyway.” 2) “The Jordan River wasn't the cleanest river around in those days (it's still not), but it was good enough for Jesus. He was simple and unassuming.” My friend might have meant either, neither, or both of those things. So in reality, I was starting to have a running dialogue in my head.

It made me think of Syndrome, the bad guy in The Incredibles, who created technology that could make anyone a superhero. He made the comment to some of the real superheroes, “When everyone's a Super, then no one is.” In my thoughts about the font, I reasoned that if everything is reduced to its utilitarian or functional value, then what becomes of our sense of the holy? If all days are just the same in terms of days for gathering to worship, if all places are equally serviceable for worship, if all items that could be used in worship are equally “good” in terms of getting the job done, then what becomes of beauty, what becomes of a day's or a place's or a church fixture's ability to serve as a window on the transcendent, to serve as a pointer beyond itself to the heavenly realities on which our worship should be based?

So as not to ramble on (an on and on...), yes, I realize and validate that sometimes the liturgical or sacramental matter of the moment takes precedent over the form it takes. Baptism with the water from a hospital sink held in a plastic cup might have to do if the person in the bed is dying. A last supper type of communion with wine from a goatskin and a piece of stale bread is more glorious with a group of disciples in prison awaiting execution for their faith than communion served in the most magnificent cathedral with chalices and patens of finest gold and worshipers thinking only of when the service will finally come to an end.

But.... Those are exceptions.

The Church has always held some notion of sacred space and time. The Church has moved to sanctify places and days and seasons and even years as a way of reclaiming bits and pieces of a fallen world for the glory of the God to whom it all rightfully belongs. Worshiping by the pool or on the golf course is not the same as gathering to a place set apart for worship. Worship on Tuesday afternoons is not the same as gathering on Sunday, the day that Jesus was raised from the dead. Using a folding table, a beer stein (still smelling of last night's beer!), a paper plate, two-buck chuck wine and saltines is not exactly offering our best and doesn't do a thing to make the occasion feel appropriate to our fellowship with the Almighty Creator of all things, with the Redeemer of the world who died for us, and with the Holy Spirit who gives us life and empowers us for our work in the world. [Yes, I know – “unless those are the best you have to offer, and better than any of the worshipers would find in their houses.” But that isn't the case for almost anyone reading this.] (And maybe I'll just end with a parenthetical comment.... Let's not surrender our sense of the sacred.)

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