What is sacred anymore?
Holy Communion is sacred. We sense it, we feel it, we know it. But what do we mean by sacred? Something special and of moral and spiritual stature, associated with the divine and requiring reverence and respect. Sacred is the opposite of profane. Profane means the opposite of sacred, outside the sacred, antagonistic to the sacred. Verbal profanities involve taking our Lord’s name in vain. Profane rites may include saying the Lord’s Prayer backwards and parodying the Lord’s Supper in black ritual with worship of the devil and other degrading rites.
But these definitions have actually been lost in our society in recent years. The idea of equality has meant that adherents of pagan religions have claimed equality with Christianity. Some even seek access to schools to spread their message. Some of these are not extreme but others are. The human rights of pagans are an issue in Britain today. Distinctions between sacred and profane have been lost. False equality is a scourge in today’s society and Christianity has been the loser. But we must not lose heart and we must not lack courage to witness for what to us is indeed sacred, the Name and Person of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. How would you feel if at this point I put a CD player on this Communion Table, pressed a button and asked you to listen to Billy Paul singing Me and Mrs Jones.
Me and Mrs. Jones
We got a thing going on
We both know that it's wrong
But it's much too strong to let it go now
We meet everyday at the same cafe
6:30 and no one knows she'll be there
Holding hands, making all kinds of plans
While the jukebox plays our favorite song
We gotta be extra careful
That we don't build our hopes up too high
'Cause she's got her own obligations
And so do I
Well, it's time for us to be leaving
And it hurts so much, it hurts so much inside
And now she'll go her way and I'll go mine
But tomorrow we'll meet at the same place, the same time
Me and Mrs., Mrs., Mrs., Mrs. Jones
We both know that it's wrong
Everyday at the same cafe
We got a thing going on.
I ask because on Monday I was asked to conduct a funeral service. Fraser from Brodies told me that the family wanted the song Me and Mrs Jones to be played during the service and they wanted other pop music played at the beginning and end of the service. I said ‘No’. I asked why they wanted a Church service at all. The person who had died had made his own arrangements and had requested Blackburn & Seafield Church. I duly made an appointment to meet the family the following day. However in the afternoon the son telephoned me to say that he was cancelling the appointment with me because there was no point in us meeting since I would not allow the choice of music to be included. I simply said. ‘OK’.
That is where we are today. People have not the slightest reverence or respect for the sacred, for God, for Jesus Christ, for the Church, for worship, for prayer, for the House of God. Some years ago while arranging a funeral service for this Church, I was asked if everyone could be asked to sing I belong to Glasgow… 'When I get a drink on a Saturday night, Glasgow belongs to me'. I said ‘No’. On that occasion the funeral service went on nevertheless. I remember also some years ago taking a funeral service for a local family which went to Mortonhall Crematorium, Edinburgh. Having worked in Edinburgh for some years before coming here, I spoke to the attendant and said, ‘Don’t play any CD music at the end until I have exited the auditorium. He, however, perhaps to spite me or just for fun, pressed the button just as I said the second syllable of the final word ‘Amen’. I then crossed the auditorium in front of the congregation and made my exit to Jimmy Durante singing Make someone happy.
There is a difference between sacred and profane. This is sacred. All of Christianity aspires to be sacred. The worship of God is sacred. But people outside the life of the Church have no understanding of its sacredness. Sometimes we ourselves seem ill at ease and uncomfortable this close to God. There is a healthy reverence involved. Perfect love casts out fear but we have to be respectful. Maintaining the dignity of Christian worship is getting harder and harder. People outside want entertainment rather than worship. It’s as if Jesus lived and died for nothing. His wonderful teaching is of no account. That he is the spiritual Lord of two billion hearts is ignored. He is to be ejected from our schools, no longer to be acknowledged as the living Lord of our lives and history. Of course, this has all been tried before. The French Revolution tried it, the Russian revolution tried it. Christianity did not die in France and it has been reborn in Russia.
There was a nice letter in The Scotsman this week. Alan Jackson wrote: 'Secularists’ letters on religion in education make me think they should all try reading Dickens’ Hard Times, for they are the modern Gradgrinds of education, humourlessly depriving children of anything other than a dry rationale of life without imaginative or spiritual nourishment. Kids who grow up not knowing the stories of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son; who have no idea why Christmas and Easter are considered significant, who have never had the opportunity to experience worship are as much cut adrift from what is best in their inherited culture as children who are denied great poetry or plays because they take them out of their usual experience. What do these secularists think education is for?'
In the Bible readings for today, we are reminded not to mess with God. We cannot wish God out of existence. It just doesn’t work. To his specially called People he said, 'You shall have no other gods before me…you shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God' (others may do so – you won’t). Jesus recognised that people give up the struggle of faith, some more easily than others. But he taught us not to lose our cutting edge, the strength of our savour and flavour as Christians. We are not to become ineffective witnesses. If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it become salty again? One of the blessings that atheists and secularists give Christians is that they help us to distinguish ourselves and define ourselves. They don’t mean to do this but it happens. St Peter urged first generation Christians to be holy, that is, to be different, to be sacred. Because Christianity was not born of the worship of idols of gold or silver. It was bought with a price, a man’s life, Jesus’ life, with his precious blood.
This Remembrance time in Britain. People are already wearing poppies. Remembrance services will take place next week. Those who take part do so reverently; these services are sacred. Desecration is the term used to describe vandalism to war memorials – that is – de-sacredising them. We also remember Jesus. But Holy Communion is not just a remembrance service. It is more than that. Because Jesus rose from the dead and he is alive for evermore. Holy Communion is that – pure communion – sacred communion relationship, personal meeting with the same Jesus. Holy Communion is a celebration of the victory of the sacred over the profane, of the defeat of evil and the triumph of Christ’s resurrection over human physical death. Holy Communion is a time for rejoicing. As Peter says, 'You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God'. Holy Communion is also thanksgiving for our salvation and for the knowledge of God the love of Jesus for us and for the promise and gift of eternal life. We are empowered by the life and energy of heaven nothing less. We are raised up and ennobled in spirit. We are taken out of ourselves for a little while. And – this sacred worship is indeed the deposit, earnest and introductory experience of our future reality.