The silence during the Compline service at Emmanuel is a very different type of silence than the relative quiet before Sunday services. With the church unlit save the candelabras at the altar and the faintest glow of the overhead lights and the only thing you can hear the faint breathing of the people around you and the muted rustling of jackets it feels as if the church sanctuary is somehow separate from the rest of the world for a few brief moments.
The concept of sanctuary is something I’ve been thinking about a lot this Lent, particularly with the news full of stories about how some churches are trying to revive their medieval roles as sanctuaries, in this case as protection from deportation. While churches don’t truly have the legal power to offer this protection in the United States, it raises the question of the role of the church to provide spiritual sanctuary both to its congregants and to the wider community.
During Lent (and all seasons), church sometimes seems like an escape from the real world to me. Each week it means there is time carved out of my schedule to stop worrying about everything else and just be for a few hours, worshipping in communion with other believers. However, I wonder if that feeling of sanctuary sometimes stops for more people than me when we walk out of the church doors and return to the ‘real world’ after service.
Thinking about that during Lent, I was reminded that the Bible says “we are the sanctuary of the living God, as God said: I will dwell among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people,” (2 Corinthians 6:16). If it is the people who make up the body and church of Christ, it makes sense then that just as the physical church can be a literal sanctuary from the world, we should also be mini-sanctuaries in ourselves. If we are truly sanctuaries of the living God, that feeling of peace should never be tied to whether we’re in church or in the world – it should instead live within us.