In past generations, the Parish Church was considered a place of sanctuary. The church was a place to go in times of trouble, to escape the power of the world, the flesh, and the devil — to find peace.
It was holy ground wherein God’s people (all people) could come to seek refuge from violence, discord, injustice, and the brutality of the circumstances around them. In more modern times we seem to have lost that awe for the holy places of God.
This lack of respect not only shows within the Christian tradition, but is also permeating the temples, mosques, synagogues, and all those places sanctified through the prayers of faithful people and the expression of the unique relationship to God through holy conversation and worship. These holy places are “The outward and visible signs of the grace of God” at work in the world. Yet religious people and secularists around the world will commit sacrilege; and enter these places with weapons to murder and destroy — acts of hate.
Even in our country it is not unheard of to learn of the burning of churches, the bringing in of weapons such as bombs or guns from the outside-in, to blow up or shoot as many people as possible in the holy places of varying but faithful religious practice. This treading on holy ground with weaponry, or intent to violence, is anathema to the teaching of most religious people, and certainly to historic Christianity. It flies in the face of American respect for, and tolerance of, religion.
In Christianity we believe that the image of God dwells within each of us by virtue of our creation. We are an outward and visible sign of God to those we come in contact with, to each other. We are His Body. In many ways I think this means that we are called to create a sanctuary for each other, spiritually as well as physically, through our conversations, and our actions.
We are called to bring peace and love. Our language should not be spoken as a weapon to kill the spirit or destroy another, but should be shared for uplifting and edifying — building up not tearing down. We are called to be a safe haven wherein the love of God is to be found, and not the suspicion, hatred, or prejudice of the world. Living as holy people, our holy places are the manifestations of the love that exists in us, and between each other. We are worthy of respect by virtue of God, and should be treated with dignity — our holy places as well.
We have a calling, and our worship places a part in that purpose. Jesus quoting Isaiah, says it best: “And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, this day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears…” (Luke 4: 17b-21 KJV).
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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