Luke 1:5-23 Common English Bible (CEB)
5 During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah……..One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. 9 Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense.
Every winter for many years, during the coldest, iciest time of year, I’ve indulged in a few hours with daughters or friends at Soakology, a “foot sanctuary” in Portland, Maine. We settle ourselves into soft comfy chairs and submerge our cold toes in huge pottery bowls of steaming water sprinkled with fragrant minerals and botanicals. The scents of forest, garden herbs, and favorite flowers connect us viscerally with the summer that WILL come again. Silly, I know, and ridiculously extravagant (thus the once a year treat), but that mini respite is the boost that gets me over winter’s hump in its darkest days each year.
Sanctuary is a place of refuge or safety, a haven, a port in the storm, a retreat, an oasis. This word comes from the Latin sanctuarium, which is like most words ending in -arium, a container for keeping something in. Think aquarium (fish), terrarium (plants), imaginarium (creativity). I invite you to stop for a moment and think about what a sanctuarium may hold.
When we read the Old Testament, we translate the English “sanctuary” from the Hebrew, “qadash”; to consecrate, declare holy, keep the holy, sanctify, set apart, transmit holiness, wholly dedicate. (Strong’s Concordance study)
So sanctuary is both a space and a vessel for active process, God’s working out of what we are meant to be.
Sanctuary is on many people’s minds this week. We read about the many ways that people are creating sanctuary for veterans-Travis Mills’ Foundation in Rome, and Honor Flights that make space for memories to emerge and honor to be restored. We see seasonal fundraising begin for camps that help children recover from life’s traumas.
We have witnessed heartbreaking violence in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, at the hand of one who served beside honorable men and women. Like the poet who wrote Psalm 74, we struggle with how to respond, to understand, to breathe….Memories are triggered of 16th Street Baptist Church and 4 little girls in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963; of Emmanuel Methodist Episcopal Church and its faithful elders in Charleston South Carolina, 2015. When sanctuary is defiled, we cry out to God. We lay out our expectations of what should be. We demand God’s response where ours feels inadequate.
In Luke 1: 9 the space called sanctuary is the deepest heart of the Temple of the Lord, ναὸν tou Kupiou. Scholars believe that a priest would serve in the holiest of holies only once or twice in a lifetime. In the sanctuary, Zechariah becomes living sanctuary, carrying the beginning of what will be powerful witness to God’s plan of salvation. He will be John the Baptist’s father. But first, he must be transformed as God’s vessel.
This is what we believe and what we practice, that God redeems and transforms the world as God redeems and transforms us, not by our own inclination or power, but by God’s living presence. A sanctuary is a temporary respite in God’s plan for the creation in entirety to be sanctuarium. May our places and practices of sanctuary form us to be catalysts instigating holiness in the world.
From Worship in Daily Life, c1999, Discipleship Resources.
Oh God, you have come in Jesus Christ, tending to all who are bent in pain,
To those separated by disease or bound by death’s power.
Come to us now, as tender touch, healing balm, and liberating relief.
Urge us to move in new ways;
encourage us to embrace the discomforts of becoming whole;
Remove from us the fear of relentless pain.
As Jesus spoke to so many and touched your hurting people,
Come now, speak to us, and touch us.
Restore us by your living and amazing grace. Amen.