“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,
in him all things hold together…”
July 22, 2007
The Reopening of the Sanctuary
It was the first day after the storm that business owners were allowed to enter the city, to “look and leave.” Pastors were included in that category (although, if anything, our business owns us)! Billy and I silently drove back into the ghost town of our deserted city, our hearts bursting with sorrow, through the ashen landscape, the ruined streets, the fallen trees, the dangling power lines, the roofless houses with their ugly water marks, to the check point at the River Road, down St. Charles Avenue to the church.
I had seen pictures of Rayne by then, so I thought I was prepared to see the wreckage but, I was not: the stricken steeple, the huge hole in the roof, the pile of rubble and shattered timbers. I just kept telling myself, it’s just a building, it’s just bricks, boards and nails. But why did I feel like I had found a loved one at the scene of an accident, her body broken, bruised, bleeding? When I went inside, when I stepped into this room, when I saw the light streaming through these windows, when I felt the deep peace that dwells within these walls, when I felt the love and mercy with which I have always been blessed in this very room, when I felt the holy hush of this sacred space, then I knew: that this is more than just bricks and boards. There is something here. Someone here. It seemed that I could feel a great heart still beating, life still pulsing, a love that cannot die. And I knew that though she was badly wounded, she was still alive.
From that day forward, Rayne has been on life support. Tubes, wires, plugs, big machines, big experts. Her surgery was done with a scope, through a hole in the ceiling, her massive internal bleeding stopped, her reconstructive surgery from the inside out. While she has a long way to go, the patient is now off life support, tubes and wires are being removed, she is accepting visitors, but only for an hour on Sundays while she continues her recuperation, growing stronger each day.
I know you are thinking, well she has gone off the deep end, for sure, over-identifying with this building—this material thing. And I know, I bet I know better than you, that the church is “not a building, not a steeple”– the church is people, the body of Christ. Even so, I also believe that the same God who made the earth and every material thing in it and called it good, and thus hallowed all created things, the same God who has chosen to take ordinary flesh and blood and bones and breathe his own life into them, his own spirit of love, the same God who took ordinary bread and wine and said, “This is me, this is my body,” is one who has the power to make that which is material a symbol of that which is spiritual. He can take a pile of ordinary dirt and make it holy ground, he can take any place on earth and make it a sacred space, any structure, a sanctuary. This place, so lovingly, carefully prepared for the presence of God, for the people of God, this place into which you cannot enter without feeling enfolded in an atmosphere of peace, hope, faith, love, this blessed place is filled with God’s Spirit of Life and Love. The heart still beats. We are his body, his broken body, but he is our soul.
I had been worried that Rayne’s sound system would not be functioning today. It had not functioned for 2 years up until last Wednesday night. But I kept telling myself that even if it didn’t, I would not have to say a word. This sanctuary is a sermon. It is in the midst of one of the most beleaguered cities of the world, a beacon of light, a call to worship, a summons to action, a place of peace. This sanctuary is a sermon: it tells the story, the old, old story of Jesus and his love. This sanctuary is a sermon: everything in it points away from itself to something else, someone else: to Him, Jesus Christ, the One in whom we see so clearly who God is. Not just any God—this God, the one who feeds the hungry, who heals the sick, who comforts the lonely, who seeks the lost, who touches the untouchable, whose forgiveness is without limit, whose mercy knows no bounds, whose love cannot die, made known to us in Jesus Christ. Not just any God: this God of love, pure, unbounded, everlasting love. e.e. cummings was right when he wrote: “Love is the every only God who spoke this earth so glad and big.”
This is what I believe Paul is saying in this verses found in Colossians. There are those who believe, in the words of Macbeth that life is “A tale told by an idiot signifying nothing.” Paul says no, “It is a story proclaimed by a Creator with a heart so huge that beats at the center the very cosmos and signifies everthing.” He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, in him all things hold together, he is first place in everything, for in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, the head of body, the church. In him, through him, for him–who is Love. Substitute for him the word love. Love: the image of the invisible God. Love: holds all things together. Love: first place in everything. Love.
Arguably the greatest scientist who has ever lived, Albert Einstein once: “The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered from ceiling to floor with books in many different languages. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books…a mysterious order which the child does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects.” Paul is telling us this is this is the mystery, language, this is the order, this is the plan, this is the arrangement, this is the reason why Christ came. To reveal that which we have only dimly suspected. Love–the reason, the answer, the plan, the order, the center. Not just any love—this love, this steadfast, unfailing, unconquerable, kind of love made known to us in a carpenter from Nazareth, born in a manger in Bethlehem, died on a cross in Jerusalem, that we might know the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for us, for all the world. God so loved the world. Love is the every only God…
I read somewhere that, on September 11, 2001, when passengers aboard the hijacked jets on 9/11 realized that they would not survive the ordeal, many of them reached for cell phones and quietly called their loved ones. Many of them could only leave messages. What were their final words to their loved ones? “My lottery ticket is in the top drawer of the dresser”? “Don’t forget to pay the house note”? “Bobby’s doctor’s appointment is next Tuesday”? No. The one message that was left was this: “I love you.” In the end, the only thing that really matters. It is the reason we are here. It is the reason we return. It is the reason we rebuild. It is the reason for life. It is the reason he came. Still he still comes, by the power of the Spirit the heart still beats.
And so today we take the alabaster jar filled with costly fragrant oil and break it open and pour it all out, on his feet, on his head. It is not a waste. It’s not for show. It’s not for us, not even for our kids, not even for the future, not ultimately. It is for him: Christ the Center: the center of the cosmos. The center my life and yours. The center of Rayne. There is no other: Little children, “Let us love one another, for those who love are born of God and know God, for God is love.”