- It seems the last of the Occupy Movement in various cities globally and nationally are being dismantled. Will it have been any more than a " news story " initially capturing the front page and then shuffled, slowly sinking in the depths of the lost and unread. Like the last physical remnants of the movement being swept up by city workers and chucked in to a dumpster. Will we as a humanity do the same, sweeping it into a dark damp corner in the recessess of our mind, letting it slowly decompose. The " church " in a bizzare ironic flip much like Pontious Pilate basically just washed it's hands of the whole affair as to not implicate or associate itself with the movement. There are some you will say I'm just being too critical. I would say look around your neighborhoods, countries and the globe...there was no overall loud and clear prophetic voice representing the radical scandalous redemptive imagination of Jesus. If anything, it was a whisper or whimper of a " body " on life support.
Through it all, I have been consumed with the idea of, " Sanctuary."
( outside the front steps of the Cathedral of St. James in Toronto )
What is your idea of " Sanctuary "? For much of North American Christianity it's a bunker in which we hunker down in safety, where the band plays songs much like on the deck of the Titanic as the world sinks deeper and deeper into hopelessness. It's the bus terminal where we wait with our reservations, tickets in hand for that flight bound for heaven. For too much of North American Christianity " Sanctuary " comes down to a couple of hours on a sunday morning. But this was not always how " Sanctuary " has been perceived and lived out.
As far back to the fourth century, sacred spaces such as church sanctuaries were recognized by law as places of refuge where fugitives were immune from arrest. They also became places of political sanctuary. The United Nations expanded the definition of "political" to include race, religion, political opinion, and membership and/or participation in any social group or social activity. Sanctuary became places for asylum, places of refuge...safety, shelter, rest, and peace.
There are stories of battles when a country got the upper hand winning the fight, and some of the adherents of the loosing side might find themselves surrounded by the winning side unable to return to their own side would rush to sanctuary in the nearest church until it was safe to leave. It was the idea that there was an anchor of justice beyond the morality of men that you could tie yourself into for safety. There are stories that if a person just clung to the altar in the sanctuary mortal men could not touch you. Sure there were cases of people also being killed in sanctuaries, but the reality was in the imagination of humanity there was sense of a kind of divine justice beyond that of the world.
Back then, " sanctuary " was as much about humanity as it was about a space of worship for " God " only. This was truly the crossroad where it all came together in the context of real life. Sanctuary was shelter...for displaced people, refugees and the homeless. Sanctuary was humanitarian...a source of help, relief or comfort in times of trouble. Oppressed groups of people could seek refuge in sanctuary. Debt relief might even be found in sanctuary. Sanctuary could also be a place where people were cared for...the sick, people with physical disabilities, mental illness.
But if " Sanctuary " was also the place where " justice " was acted out...it was also the place where " Justice " was proclaimed and spoken.
"In the profound scandalous redemptive imagination of Jesus...the " Church " has lost touch with what " Sanctuary " really is."
We have to go back to Jesus of Nazareth, and dive deep into the depths of the gospels...into the life and words of Jesus and really grasp what sanctuary is.
Most fundamentally he challenges us to give priority to mercy; without it, nothing else has any meaning. His honesty toward reality, his will to truth, his judgment on the situation of the oppressed majorities and the oppressive minorities, his call to be the voice of the voiceless against those who have too much voice. His reaction to that reality: defending the weak, denouncing and unmasking the oppressor.
His faithfulness in upholding honor and justice to the very end, in the face of internal crises and external persecutions. His freedom to bless and curse, to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath but also to place human beings ahead of the Sabbath; in short, his freedom to let nothing stop him from doing good.
His vision of an end to the misfortunes of the poor and happiness (therefore, blessedness) for his followers. His embrace of sinners and the marginalized, his sitting at the table and celebrating with them, his joy over God's self-revelation to them. His signs--only modest signs of the kingdom--and his utopian horizon that took in the whole society, the world and history. And finally, his trust in a good God, close by, whom he called Father, while at the same time he remained attentive to the Father who is God, the unmanageable mystery.
In this millennium, in this moment of time the church needs to re-imagine " Sanctuary "...in my deepest, wildest most profound imagination, " Sanctuary " is Jesus. And the church who is to be his " body " needs to be the sanctuary to the world that surrounds it.
" Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." ( Eugene Peterson's; The Message; Matthew 11:28 )
This is not an invitation for just the " in-crowd ", your religion, my religion...all the right boxes checked off in what you believe. This was an invitation for the broken, the oppressed, the poor, the marginalized, the victimized, the sick, the lame, the blind, the sinner...for the brokenness of all humanity to seek sanctuary in the mysterious redemptive reality of all the Jesus is.
It's my prayer, that the " Occupy Movement " has ignited, and re-kindled the imagination in the heart, mind and soul of the church to what " sanctuary " is. That in the divine redemptive imagination in the mind of Christ we will be that sanctuary. That we will open our doors, and our mouths...in action, and proclaim the redemptive justice of Jesus.