Easter Without A Sanctuary?

3 crosses

SANCTUARY

Yesterday I woke up with this word on my mind and heart…

SANCTUARY ~ “A place of refuge or safety.”

It’s a word that has given me great comfort throughout my life, but this week, when I woke up thinking “sanctuary”, my first thoughts were uncontrollably melancholy as I thought of how Christ-followers won’t be able to gather with other believers this week to celebrate the Resurrection (Easter), our annual celebration of Christ’s victory over death, in our respective church sanctuaries this Sunday due to COVID-19 and the social distancing guidelines and orders in place throughout our nation and world.

Any other time, i.e., “normal times”, when I think of “sanctuary” I think of … 

…Worshipping God in beautiful churches in the fellowship of believers, which brings great comfort and hope and joy – and I find sanctuary.

“O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells”.- Psalm 26:8

…Walking with God in a forest, on a beach, through the mountains, in a beautiful garden, those sanctuaries He has created throughout nature that have provided peace and the opportunity to rest, reflect, and abide in the love of my Savior – and I find sanctuary.

“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.” – Psalm 84:3

…Turning to God in desperate prayer, pouring out my heart through reading and writing in times of sorrow, begging for help in times of need, crying out for relief in times of suffering, and sobbing my tears into my pillow in grief, and receiving security, comfort, peace, and rest within the embrace of His ever-waiting arms within each of those places and times – I find sanctuary.

“…my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.” – Psalm 63:1b-2

I have often turned to the words of Psalm 84*, both as a song of praise and a prayer of lament, depending upon the situation:

“…How lovely is your dwelling place,

    O Lord of hosts!

My soul longs, yes, faints

    for the courts of the Lord;

my heart and flesh sing for joy

    to the living God…

…For a day in your courts is better

    than a thousand elsewhere…”

(*see the end of this post for the words of the full Psalms I reference throughout)

But during this current pandemic, it is truly sad and painful for so many Christ-followers all over the globe to realize that we won’t be enjoying all of the traditional fellowship and rituals of Holy Week, culminating in the beauty of Easter Sunday. Gathering together to celebrate the Risen Lord, who conquered death to give us new and eternal life in Him, is not only a “tradition” but a true desire placed deep within the hearts of those of us who have been given new life through the blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

In other words, it is part of our new nature as believers to long to gather with others to worship, to practice our rituals and traditions, to encourage, to fellowship, to serve, to celebrate, and to live out our lives in unity.

Relationship. Fellowship. Community. Unity – with God and with one another. These are hallmarks of the Christian faith. We are created with these needs, and called to live in this way. And they cannot be replaced by anything else available to us in or from this world.

So this is truly a tough time for believers.

It’s a tough time as individual churches have struggled to provide sanctuary and worship for their members and attendees in a world where it is considered “wrong” to gather together right now.  

It’s tough as we are all seeking ways to find connection and fellowship when we’re being advised and ordered to do the exact opposite and refrain from gathering in our respective sanctuaries.

But you know what? We are persevering, and finding ways to “gather together” – at least “virtually” – anyway. 

And we are learning that “sanctuary”, “church”, and “gathering” perhaps have different meanings and attributes than what we once believed.

I’ve been thinking that maybe we are finally on to something here…that God is using this time to reveal to us what “church” and “sanctuary” really mean – beyond four walls, beyond a “physical place”, or even beyond a “physical gathering of people”.

Perhaps we are learning that the most effective way to achieve relationships, fellowship, community, and unity with The Church is not found within the many gatherings of thousands upon thousands of churches around the world, but instead is found as we, The Church universal, the Body of Christ, find out that WE ARE ALL CONNECTED IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH – not within walls and traditions and gatherings for rituals.

Remember Christ’s encounter with the woman at the well in John chapter 4? Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 

In other words, Christ came so that we were not limited to the Old Testament traditions, laws, and places of worship, where only those who were “clean” could worship, and only the High Priest could encounter the presence of God. Jesus came, lived a perfect life, willingly endured the cross, died for us, conquered death and was resurrected so that we ALL might worship in SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH, anywhere, anytime.

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” – Hebrews 9:24

Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father in Heaven, and He has sent the Comforter, Holy Spirit, part of the Triune God, to be with us now.  In this way, God is always with us. He is Spirit. He is everywhere. HE IS IN HIS SANCTUARY AND HE IS OUR SANCTUARY NOW, WITH US, as He has always been.

“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” – Exodus 25:8

Remember King David – a man after God’s own heart? Some of David’s sweetest psalms were those that were written while he was in the wilderness. He was banished or fleeing and hiding at those times and often found himself alone, for long periods of time, before the Lord. What he found caused him the most grief during those times was how he sorely missed the religious rituals and traditions of the courts of the tabernacle. He longed for them to be restored to him, and not being able to enjoy and practice those rituals and traditions in the fellowship of believers made him hunger for them all the more. 

But truthfully it wasn’t the rituals and traditions that he missed and longed for the most, but the God of these rituals and traditions. David realized that he longed to enjoy GOD, no matter where he was, no matter how alone he was or felt. The words of Psalm 63* reflect his true longing – to see God’s power and glory in the wilderness as he had seen it in the sanctuary:

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;

    my soul thirsts for you;

my flesh faints for you,

    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,

    beholding your power and glory…”

When we are deprived of the public benefit of our religious rituals and traditions, i.e., “going to church”, we SHOULD still desire and endeavor to keep up the same communion with God that we have practiced in our congregations.

In this time, while we are unable to gather together, we may begin to experience “sanctuary” in a new way. And hopefully what we are learning and experiencing now will continue forever, as we understand and experience “sanctuary in God” the way David did. Like David, as we long to be brought out of the wilderness, may it not be simply to see friends again or to be restored to the pleasures and happiness of our congregations – but so we might have access to God in His Sanctuary, not the preachers and worship teams and ceremonies of worship, but to see the power of God’s glory and worship him IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH!

In this way, Ezekiel experienced sanctuary in Babylon. John experienced sanctuary all alone on the isle of Patmos. Even your own closet can be turned into a little sanctuary. 


The purpose is to see and experience God, in His power and in His glory, His attributes and perfection as we see it in faith – in SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH!

These are precious moments that we, like David in the wilderness alone, can spend in communion with God, even though we are apart from one another physically, unable to gather in our church sanctuaries. Yet we are still connected in ONE SPIRIT. 

Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.’ – Ezekiel 11:16

Now is not a time to mourn that we are in the wilderness for a time. It is easy to praise God when times are easy and we are able to enjoy the spoils of the lives to which we’ve grown accustomed. Even in the wilderness, He is STILL providing sanctuary for each of us. Shouldn’t we also find our hearts refreshed as we remember what He has done and provided for us in those times of comfort before, and for what He promises for our future? And more than that, we praise Him because the blessings that He provides for us are so much greater than the wealth this world could ever give us.

When we meditate upon these blessings, let us also remember the words of Paul to the Romans, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1)

Instead of focusing on the pain of what we do not have and what we cannot do, let us be willing to offer to sacrifice even more – our own bodies as a living sacrifice. As members of Christ’s Body, are we willing to risk our own privileges, our own goods, our own health in order to have the opportunity to share the Gospel with others? When we are willing to give up our own bodies, our own desires, even up to and including our own life, for the sake of others and God’s Kingdom, THIS is true and proper worship.

And how should all of this inspire and change us in the future, when this time of separation has been lifted and Christ-followers find it possible to go back into the safety and “sanctuary” of our congregational buildings?

Yes, it will be a time to rejoice in being reunited and to celebrate in worshipping God with those we love in our congregations, in our beautiful sanctuaries. After all, our hearts are created for and long for this communion and unity! 

But please, let us never forget what has happened during this time of confusion, sorrow, pain, suffering, and separation.

Let us always remember the first time in our recent history that Christians did not get to come together in their congregational sanctuaries to worship on Easter Sunday. 

Let us always remember David in the wilderness, finding sanctuary in GOD alone. 

Let us always remember how God has used this time to call us back to Him, our true sanctuary, finding refuge and safety in Him in HIS sanctuary (Psalm 150) –  no walls necessary. 

Let us always remember that “sanctuary” does not mean “self preservation” – that true worship does not come in holding back what we have to offer others in times of hardship, and that offering our bodies as living sacrifices is true and proper worship.

And let us always remember that though He has created us for relationship, fellowship, community, and unity – in times when we cannot be together physically we still may always worship in His sanctuary in the fellowship of believers in Spirit and in Truth, no matter where we are.

HE IS RISEN!

_____________________________

Psalm 84:

How lovely is your dwelling place,

    O Lord of hosts!

My soul longs, yes, 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 your altars, O Lord of hosts,

    my King and my God.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house,

    ever singing your praise! Selah

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,

    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

As they go through the Valley of Baca

    they make it a place of springs;

    the early rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength;

    each one appears before God in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;

    give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

Behold our shield, O God;

    look on the face of your anointed!

For a day in your courts is better

    than a thousand elsewhere.

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God

    than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;

    the Lord bestows favor and honor.

No good thing does he withhold

    from those who walk uprightly.

O Lord of hosts,

    blessed is the one who trusts in you!

______________________

Psalm 63:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;

    my soul thirsts for you;

my flesh faints for you,

    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,

    beholding your power and glory.

Because your steadfast love is better than life,

    my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live;

    in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,

    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,

when I remember you upon my bed,

    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

for you have been my help,

    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.

My soul clings to you;

    your right hand upholds me.

But those who seek to destroy my life

    shall go down into the depths of the earth;

they shall be given over to the power of the sword;

    they shall be a portion for jackals.

But the king shall rejoice in God;

    all who swear by him shall exult,

    for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

—————

Psalm 150:

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;

    praise him in his mighty heavens!

Praise him for his mighty deeds;

    praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;

    praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance;

    praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with sounding cymbals;

    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

Like What You Are Reading? Sign up for the Newsletter.

Subscribe to My Newsletter

* indicates required

2 thoughts on “Easter Without A Sanctuary?

  1. And let us always remember that though He has created us for relationship, fellowship, community, and unity – in times when we cannot be together physically we still may always worship in His sanctuary in the fellowship of believers in Spirit and in Truth, no matter where we are.

    Yes. Such good words that apply as much now as they did at Easter. Thank you for a thoughtful post.

  2. Hi Tron, I found your blog by searching for Christian travel blogger – I enjoyed reading your piece here and also looking through your archives. Looking forward to following along on your journey.

Leave a Comment