Our parish church, St. Peter’s Anglican in Oakland, is building a new courtyard. Over the summer we have entered the church through side doors and back doors. We have peered over broken-down walls and into churned-up soil and rock. Along the way we unearthed our original cornerstone, laid in 1913. Somehow it was buried when a new church was built alongside the old in 1957.
There has been much discussion, weighing in, rethinking this and deciding on that, in the process of executing the architect’s vision for our courtyard. Are the colors compatible with the existing buildings? Should there be a lych-gate or just a gate? How high will the brick walls be exactly? Did we really have to remove the palm tree? When will it be finished? In time for our organ concert? When will the elevators for the handicapped be done?
There has been much sighing and wringing of hands and raising of brows, then chuckling and open palms and leaving it all to God. Somehow we have weathered the great questions and agreed upon sensible answers. God has been good.
Today, finally, we could see how it all might turn out. Planting beds are marked. The brick wall (not too high) is finished, an inviting border. Soon the patio will be laid. Soon the front doors will be opened, their chains broken, and soon we will once again cross the threshold of our church, leave the secular behind and enter the sacred.
The sun came out this morning as we peered over the low brick wall. The heavy fog that settles upon the Bay Area this time of year had burned away. The earth, its gravity holding our church fast on its rim, was turning slowly, away from summer into autumn in this part of the world, away from winter into spring in other parts. For us here, on this part of the planet, daylight shrinks as the dark of night expands.
I’m glad to have a sacred space hugging the edge of the earth so firmly, and I’m glad to have a courtyard that links the secular with the sacred, that points to the light in the darkness. Crossing such a space is a preparation, a time to quiet the mind and heart before kneeling in a pew to worship God. It is a time to bridge two worlds – that of God and that of man.
In the end, that is what Christians do, or are called to do. Each of us is a kind of courtyard, a linking and a joining of the secular and the sacred, of earth and heaven. We have experienced the transcendent, God become man, God giving himself to man in the Eucharist, God living within man through Eucharist and Spirit. But we are all only partly finished courtyards, I fear, for each of us has a long way to go for our gardens to flower, for our patios to be solid enough to bear much weight.
But we open our gates, and we invite those outside to come inside, to leave the noise and enter the quiet. We say, come, look and see what we have seen! Come, know the peace of God. Come, be healed. We witness to transcendence, here in our earthy world, an increasingly dangerous and barbaric world.
The Gospel for today was the healing of the man who cannot hear and cannot speak. He was deaf and dumb. Christ charges him and the witnesses to tell no one, but they do anyway, “beyond measure astonished, saying, ‘He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.’ ” I too am beyond measure astonished when I enter our holy space and gaze at the altar and its tented tabernacle resting in its garden of fiery tapers. I too want to tell about it, for my ears have been opened and my tongue loosed. I too have been healed of apathy, despair, depression, heartbreak, fear… to name just a few demons. I too have been forgiven my sins. Once, long ago, I was invited to enter through a gate by someone, like me today, grinning and beckoning from a courtyard, calling me to cross the threshold and enter the church. And once I entered, I knew, from the beauty that engulfed me, that I had left the secular and stepped into the sacred. And I was beyond measure astonished.
Soon our courtyard will be finished. Soon it will invite the halt, the lame, and the blind to enter this holy home of God and be healed. Soon it will witness to the world the incarnation of God, to Emmanuel, God with us. For the 1913 church and the 1957 church are now joined by the 2014 garden court, the child of a century of worship, a century of incense, candles, and song, a century of transcendent beauty.