Rev. Dr. Paul Moore
February 18, 2018
LINK TO PDF VERSION (Good for saving or printing out)
During Lent we are launching a study of the spirituality of Holy Week. The celebration of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Morning, walks us dramatically through the whole of our faith. If we “get” Holy Week we “get” the faith. Each Sunday the preacher will unpack an aspect of what Holy Week is all about, and on Wednesdays we will take that same theme and dig deeper. The sermons will be rather didactic, teaching sermons designed to open up for you how our faith works. This is the first of the series. The topics are:
- Sacred time and sacred space.
- Palm Sunday’s tension and the discipline of Holy Monday – Holy Wednesday.
- The Triduum of Maundy Thursday evening through Sunday Morning as the time of transformation.
- The Triduum unpacked.
- Triduum as one long day, the Great Spiritual Journey.
On Palm Sunday we will begin the journey, and on Holy Wednesday we will be in quiet reflection and spiritual preparation. I invite you to be involved as much as you can.
Time and space are not uniform. They are not the same everywhere and any time. One of our youth celebrated a very special birthday last month. He turned 18 years of age. I know he will remember it for a long time. We all have our own special birthday memories. One of my favorites was my 9th birthday. I remember a gift I received that was a toy that I played with for hours on end. Birthdays are special. On your birthday the rules change for you just slightly, and if there is a party, the place where the party takes place changes slightly. They are special times and special places.
Some times and places are more than just “special.” I remember going to our son Leni’s graduation ceremony from boot camp. People marched in certain ways, specific people said certain things, and it all took place at a certain place and at a certain time. Ceremony marks out ceremonial time and space. The rules are a little different, and the place is somehow not like just “ordinary space.” Ceremony reaches deeper into the human experience, and expresses deeper truths. It calls forth behavior that is rooted in deeper knowledge. We say that ceremonies are “meaningful,” “moving” or “powerful,” and they are.
Then there is sacred time and space. If birthdays are “special,” and ceremonies are “moving,” sacred time and space is transforming. The rules change dramatically, the space changes profoundly, and the truths relived are eternal.
We see this reflected in our readings today. In the first one God makes a covenant with Noah. Many of God’s covenants with people are one-sided: promises God makes. This is one of the first. God will never again destroy all life in the flood. The rainbow will be the sign of God’s promise. In a real sense God is saying that the earth itself has been made sacred space.
In the second one the writer of the Epistle unpacks the story of Noah and the flood from a Christian standpoint. Here, he says, is an image of baptism. Baptism isn’t just a washing of the body, baptism washes the soul. The inner landscape of the human soul is now made sacred space. What is more, the two are connected—outer and inner sacred space.
In the Gospel lesson time is made sacred. Jesus is baptized, tempted and sent out in mission. These last three years of Jesus’ life are different from the previous 30. Now he is on a sacred mission. The days he spends will be spent in service to the mission God has given him. He preaches the message he embodies: The Kingdom of God has come near.
Lent is a study in sacred time and space.
Sacred space grounds our world in eternity. Listen to a portion of an ancient Jewish poem. It is captured in Psalm 74, written most likely right after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 BCE.
3 Turn your steps toward the endless ruins; *
the enemy has laid waste everything in your sanctuary.
4 Your adversaries roared in your holy place; *
they set up their banners as tokens of victory.
5 They were like men coming up with axes to a grove of trees; *
they broke down all your carved work with hatchets
6 They set fire to your holy place; *
they defiled the dwelling-place of your Name
and razed it to the ground.
7 They said to themselves, “Let us destroy them altogether.” *
They burned down all the meeting-places of God
in the land.
8 There are no signs for us to see;
there is no prophet left; *
there is not one among us who knows how long.
9 How long, O God, will the adversary scoff? *
will the enemy blaspheme your Name for ever?
As you see here, sacred space is essential to the wellbeing of the people. It is the meeting place of the human and the divine, without which the world is without protection from evil. Sacred space goes to the very heart of what it means to be a people of faith.
Good Shepherd Church’s sacred space is here, this space, with its Nave, Sanctuary, Altar and Pulpit. The thresholds to sacred space are the two doorways. When you enter here you enter a space that, in some way or another, touches eternal space, and is meant to resonate with that sacred landscape within you that is your own sacred space. In here the rules are different. We enter just a bit humbled and not without a touch of awe. We do things, sing songs and say words that we may also say outside of this place—in fact, I would hope you do, but those things we do, the songs we sing and the words we say draw there meaning from this place. This is a space where the community of God gathered meets God gathered with us. Here heaven and earth are seen to intersect. It is here that in Holy Week we will do very special things that trace the shape of our relationship with the God we meet here.
Sacred time grounds our living in eternity. Listen to another portion of an ancient Jewish poem. It is captured in Psalm 81.
1 Sing with joy to God our strength *
and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob.
2 Raise a song and sound the timbrel, *
the merry harp, and the lyre.
3 Blow the ram’s-horn at the new moon, *
and at the full moon, the day of our feast.
4 For this is a statute for Israel, *
a law of the God of Jacob.
5 He laid it as a solemn charge upon Joseph, *
when he came out of the land of Egypt.
This was probably an Introit, calling the people to worship: “Begin the music, strike the timbral, play the melodious harp and lyre.” But it is not just church for church’s sake. The last two verses place worship in context: “This is a decree for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob. When God went out against Egypt, he established it as a statute for Joseph.” This is a worship experience designed to touch once again that sacred time when God took the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt to the land of Promise.
Worship does what all sacred time does. Every religious tradition has a story about when God showed up. Every religious tradition’s rites reenact that story in such a way that time is eclipsed and we share once again in that moment of revelation. Past and present are transcended, and we touch the eternal Now where past and present and future are one. When we gather here for worship, we are not doing God a favor, for God doesn’t need favors from us. We are not just complying with an obligation, though we have an obligation to gather in worship. We are doing much more than trying to be good people, though that should be one of the side-effects. We touch once again those stories that make us who we are as Christians. Take them literally or figuratively or mythically—it doesn’t really matter. These are the stories that drive our tradition and our understanding of God, and they are the stories that ultimately should drive our living.
When we gather for the various events of Holy Week we enter the most sacred time of our Christian liturgical life. At this time, more than any other, we touch base with those essential stories. We read them, we enact them, we sing them, we participate in them symbolically. You could say that for a week we step into mythic time when past and present are one, and we watch with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we walk with Jesus down the Via Dolorosa, we hear the mistrial and the mockery of the crowds, we stand by the cross with the women, and we follow the women and then the men to the empty tomb, and are filled with wonder and fear—and we are transformed!
Lent is the time we prepare for that spiritual journey. As we launch Lent this year, this is where it’s going. Like one who is going to hike the Continental Divide Trail trains and gathers equipment and supplies needed, Lent is a time of training and gathering that information and those disciplines needed for Holy Week. What can you do this Lent that will help you prepare?
What will build your capacity to be aware of sacred time and space? What will equip you to enter into that time and space in holy awe and wonder? I would take you back to the first reading and remind you that ultimately ALL space is holy in God’s eyes—what will you do to live that especially during Lent? Perhaps you could create a sacred space that reminds you that all space is sacred.
I would take you also to the Gospel lesson for today, where the whole of Jesus’ ministry was sacred time—when will you live in sacred time in Lent? Maybe you could set aside a time to remind yourself that all time is God’s time.
I would remind you that the inner landscape and the outer one should resonate—what will you do to bring the two into harmony?
How will sitting in your sacred space for your sacred time change the way you live your sacred lives?