There was something special about the sanctuary. It was not common ground. It was holy. The word “holy” basically means “set apart”. The sanctuary was a place, set apart from all the common places in the city. Outside you would find the carpenter’s shop, the meat vendor, the bakery, the coffee shop, etc. People would be playing, working, going about their business. There would be vendors buying and selling trinkets and food. In the Old Testament days small and medium sized animals would be sold for sacrifices. But inside the sanctuary everything was different. The sanctuary represented the place where the presence of God was understood; a place where people can come and get away from it all and spend time with God.
Today we consider the meeting area for our worship services a sanctuary. It is set apart. The thing that makes it a sanctuary is not the building itself nor is it the decorations. Three weeks ago Heather and I had the privilege of worshiping in a church in Whistler BC that held its service in a gymnasium. Off to the sides there were basketball hoops. But while God’s people were meeting together in that place for the purpose of worship, it was a sanctuary. It didn’t look anything like our sanctuary, but it was still a sanctuary. It was a place to come and pray and worship the Lord in the company of others who were seeking to do the same. After the service there was coffee and tea served in the gym and some kids did toss around a basketball. But that was after the service. During the service it was a sanctuary - a place of prayer and worship.
I believe that today people are looking for something out of the ordinary; a place where they can put all the things of the world behind them and find refuge in the presence of God; a place that is set apart. One of the most beautiful things is to see people use the sanctuary as a place of prayer, praying individually or one person praying for another. Yes, people can pray at home or anywhere else, but there is something unique about praying in the sanctuary, particularly before or after the worship service.
At the ball park it is perfectly reasonable to come and go as you please, go get a cup of coffee or eat a hot dog while you’re watching. The ball park is an ordinary place. The sanctuary is not. How then can we keep the sanctuary from becoming ordinary and at the same time make people feel comfortable in coming? That is always a difficult thing to balance but I believe it begins with respect. Respect for where we are and what we are doing and respect for those around us who are also worshiping the Lord.
We definitely don’t want to give someone a difficult time because their young child makes some noise. Children are always welcome, even noisy infants. But neither do we want to treat the sanctuary like a coffee shop, coming and going as we please and entering into ordinary conversations. Somewhere we need to find the right balance.
Whereas Esmerelda ran into the church for physical safety, we come to the sanctuary to get away from the ordinary and enter into the realm of the extraordinary - an encounter with the living God. I encourage you to pray about that encounter before the service begins and then use the foyer for fellowship for as long as you like following the service. That way we can both honour God and encourage one another with our conversation.