Psalm 98 (3)
Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)
I have always been drawn to sacred spaces.
When I was young our family would visit old churches, not just on Sundays or for worship. There are so many old churches in Europe, so visiting them is simply part of the tourist itinerary. To me, these houses of worship always communicated that God was near (Baroque and Rococo churches being the exception).
When I was eleven or twelve my father had business contacts near the old Benedictine Abbey of Maria Laach, and we would tag along. There was a little family time, but mostly, my dad would do ‘his stuff’ and we would do what there was to do. Maria Laach is a beautiful church in a beautiful place and we would usually attend vespers, and the chanting of the monks at vespers (not to mention the incense) made me seriously consider the monastery as a potential vocation. There was a sense of the numinous, a distinct sense of the presence of God.
The congregation in which I was raised occupies the first sacred building erected in my home town after World War II. It is a beautiful building with a granite baptismal font centrally placed in the nave and a large stain glass window of Jesus stilling the storm above the altar, into which is integrated a plain large stone cross.
Churches built only a few years later emulated the industrial look of factories and high-rise buildings of the seventies. The theory was that one wanted to create space that echoed the experience of ordinary people. And so they built very ordinary churches.
I was blessed to have grown up in congregation that worshipped in a beautiful building. I was blessed not only because I like beautiful things and architecture in particular, but because the architecture communicated to me something about the presence of God. Sacred art and architecture took me by the hand and confirmed what I intuitively already knew, that the world is not flat, but is imbued with the presence of a God who wants to be known. The God we worship is a God who is omnipotent and eternal and without potentiality (for God is all in all and the source of all being, lacking nothing) and yet desires to be known, desires to be with us, and who came among us.
I know myself blessed to serve a congregation that built a beautiful building such as this not for beauty’s sake but to communicate that God has made God’s home among mortals, that what we saw foretold in the tabernacle, the glory of God dwelling with God’s people, we now know perfectly embodied in Christ who is present in Word and Sacrament and the life of the body of Christ.
Embodiment is what at least two of our readings are about. Hebrews describes Jesus as the exact imprint of God’s very being, and both John and Hebrews speak of God’s creative activity in Jesus.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
John echoes the words of Genesis where God speaks and the world, and human beings come into existence, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”
The author of Hebrews and John place together creation and redemption, for them, both belong together, both are part of the ongoing creative activity of God. And because both belong together and both are the same, we see the connection between them. Jesus is not some divine coincidence who has nothing to do with what happened at the beginning, but all things came into being through the one through whom, from whom, and to whom are all things, and whose creative activity redeems the cosmos.
Genesis also tells us that we are created in God’s image. The tradition calls us co-creators with God, not because we were equal with God (which we are not and to think so is our original sin), but because being created in God’s image includes that God gave us the gift of creativity. And when we create we are at play, because creation and creating is a playful activity.
There is a novel I should reread. Perhaps you know it. It is Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead.
The setting of Gilead could not be more prosaic, a dusty town in Iowa in the 1950ies.
There is a passage in Gilead that plays with the idea that at the heart of the Christian life is a divine playfulness.
Rev Ames, the novel’s narrator/protagonist muses that “Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and that God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me because it makes us artists of our behaviour and the reaction of God to us might be thought of as aesthetic rather than morally judgmental in the ordinary sense.
How well do we understand our role, with how much assurance do we perform it? I suppose Calvin’s God was a Frenchmen just as mine is a Mid-westerner of New England extraction.
Well, we all bring such light to bear on these matters as we can.”
And so we find that God is not only present in art and architecture, but that God is at the heart of all creative human activity, creative also means life-giving in some way.
And this is embodied in our capacity to be creative with our lives. And so as we remembered yesterday that that worship is an act of protest, witness, and imagination, we know that we can engage in those activities because the Word has become flesh and continues to be present in Word and Sacrament, and in the world God made.