I was glad when they said to me, ‘let us go to the house of the Lord’ (Psalm 122:1)
For the psalmist, the house in question is, of course, the Jerusalem temple. Built initially by the famed King Solomon, the temple was much more than just a place of worship; it symbolized (and for many continues to symbolize) the very presence of God with his people. It is a tangible sign of something which is, ultimately, intangible. Of course, like our cathedrals, the temple was home to great religious rituals, they are, after all, an important part of our communal story telling. But it was not just a place for public worship and ritual. Jesus tells us very firmly My house shall be a house of prayer (Matt 21:13). Above all, the house of the Lord is a place to encounter the Lord, to encounter God – in public or in private; in prayer, in praise and in silence.
We can pray anywhere, and Jesus often did. However, as many have found, there are special places, places blessed by centuries, millennia even, of prayer; places where God feels closer. I had one of my closest encounters in the ruins of a church destroyed by the commissioners of Henry VIII nearly 500 years ago. This Sunday we will share the moment the prophet Isaiah encountered God in person (Isaiah 6). For Isaiah this was a life changing moment that sets (or resets) the course of his life’s work. Already a prophet, Isaiah sees God not so much in the temple as spilling out from it on all sides. God, we see, is not constrained by buildings. He is infinitely larger than that. Like Isaiah, however, we all have to start somewhere. Living in the countryside we have the privilege of space, beauty and, if we seek it, solitude. In towns and cities, we are bombarded by all manner of sounds and images. My house shall be a house of prayer.
On a smaller scale than Jerusalem, perhaps, but each of our parishes has its own House of the Lord. Fortunately, we are able to keep most of them open, most of the time. The Lord is hospitable (even if his people sometimes struggle to match) and so his house is not just for his close friends, nor just for special occasions; it’s open to all. Maybe the best time to meet him, is when you catch him there on his own.
Rev Philip Payne The Notice Sheet for 6 February 2022