They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” – Hebrews 8:5 (NRSV)
If you worship in a purpose-built church, chances are those who designed it—and those who later renovated or took care of it—were more or less like Moses: they intended to create a building that was a sketch and a shadow of the sanctuary of heaven. Clear windows for the pure light of God, or colored ones for beauty and instruction. Musical instruments. Intentional spatial organization. Art. Ramps. Hearing assistive devices. Loftiness. Beauty. An extremely optimistic number of seats.
They wanted people who came in to get a glimpse of what heaven was going to be like, so next time you get to church early or the sermon gets boring, look around. Ask yourself: which parts of this building look like heaven? Conversely, which ones fall short? Which make clear that a mere sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary is the best we humans can manage?
Of course, whatever heaven is truly like, it’s going to make your church look pretty bad by comparison. There’s no way to really know how right or wrong our architects and renovators have gotten it, or what you’ll recognize when you get there. But take heart; I don’t know whether heaven will have the same carpeting your church does, but there are a few elements of your sanctuary’s design that I’m quite sure you’ll see again when you arrive: the ones who are breathing.
You and I both know that these buildings are pale reflections at best, O God, and yet we can’t seem to do without them. Remind us what they’re for, what their limitations are, and what the truly important things inside them are. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.