How lovely is Thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Psalm 84:1-2
Begin this morning’s reflection by reading Psalm 84:1-2, out loud slowly three times. How does that make you feel? Are you reading it with passion because it is a true statement for your life? Are you reading it quickly, and once only, because it is far from true? Do you read it with longing and hope, that one day it will ring true?
Don’t despair if these verses don’t ring true for you!
The Bible in countless examples sets the ideal for us. God knows that we aren’t perfect. God knows that we cannot attain perfection in this life. However, He sets the bar at perfection because that is the aim. Anything less than perfection is mediocre and incomplete, and that is not what God wants for us.
Imagine if these verses read, How mediocre is Thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul is meh, yea is lukewarm for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing occasionally to the living God.
Ideally, worship of God brings us great joy. Obviously, in several areas of our country, worship is not possible in person. In other parts, the numbers are limited, and masks and social distancing make worship not as joyful as we are used to. No, I do not like putting on a mask to distribute Holy Communion, or gloves to hand out antithoron. I don’t like looking at the SignUpGenius in the hopes that people will come and worship. What hasn’t changed for me, however, is the feeling I get when I walk into the church, even with these temporary measures, that I am home. The church is my refuge, my sanctuary.
I’m reminded of the movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” where the church was a “sanctuary” for criminals and undesirables. No one could forcibly remove someone from a church. It was indeed a “sanctuary,” a safe place from any trouble one might be in. Obviously, the church is a sanctuary in the sense that it is a holy place. But it is also a “sanctuary”, a place of refuge from our troubles.
There is something special about the church building. I’m not talking about the decorations and the icons. I’m talking about the peace and serenity that is in the church. When I look up at the walls of the church, not only do I see the likenesses of the saints and the angels, but a quiet strength, like an impenetrable fort in the midst of a great battle. I see a lighthouse on a stormy night. And this is just the building. Which is why I love to be in church, even when there is no service going on, or when there is a service with few people, or when Orthros starts and only a couple of people are present. Because I feel safe and secure just being in church.
Worship adds another dimension. When there are people present, whether they are singing out loud or just quietly there, there is validation, there is encouragement, that there is a group of people who are on the same journey. We may not all be in the same place as far as our faith, our knowledge or our commitment. But we are all on the same journey. And no one needs to feel alone or isolated. In a period of time where we are physically distant and spend more time isolated than any time in recent history, worship (even virtual worship) lessens the feeling of isolation. I hope virtual worship will not become a trend when this is over, but while we are in this pandemic, one shouldn’t feel isolated in virtual worship, because in the prayers of the service, the priest is praying for all those who have gathered. And since that number is always greater than one, a person isn’t truly isolated spiritually when worship is taking place.
My soul longs for what is normal, which is worship of God. Not every service is packed with people. (Under normal circumstances, weekday worship is rarely in front of a full church). Not every service is memorable. Many are even mundane. But church is our sanctuary, it is a safe place no matter how we feel and no matter what is going on in the world. And there is a level of joy in worship, each time we gather to worship. Because there is a level of peace every time we are in the presence of Christ in His holy sanctuary, our sanctuary.
How lovely is Thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at Thy altars, O Lord of Hosts, my King and My God. Blessed are those who dwell in Thy house, ever singing Thy praise! Blessed are the men whose strength is in Thee, in whose heart are the highways of Zion. As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rai also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion. O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer, give ear, O God of Jacob! Behold our shield O God; look upon the face of Thine anointed! For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God then dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; He bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in Thee! Psalm 84
Visit the sanctuary of your parish as often as possible!