Something happened Sunday. It was special. It happened during the dedication of our new church in Woodinville, Washington. That something was a liturgy that lasted three hours. It took that long to transform the new building into a sacred space. During the liturgy the altar was anointed, incensed, lit on fire, set with white linen and then used as a place to offer sacrifice. The entire church and assembly was sprinkled with holy water. Relics of the saints were sealed under the altar with a welder’s torch. The walls of the church were anointed with holy oil. The choir chanted the sacred words in an endless sequence of verses. And when it was all done, we celebrated and applauded those who worked hard to make it possible.
Some people cried. Others were just choked up. I was in the latter group. But few of us had ever seen a dedication before. So why was the experience so moving? One reason is that “they painted the walls.” When the archbishop and our pastor made the sign of the cross with holy oil on the wooden beams along the walls of the church I felt like I had experienced this before. Somehow this simple action brought back memories that were older than my life was long. It made me feel rooted in the family of my ancestors.
Humans have been painting the walls of caves for tens of thousands of years. Today, our cave is a church building. We decorate and consecrate the building just as our ancestors did in pre-historic times. I wonder if this desire to paint the walls and consecrate the altar is present within our DNA? If so, then the celebration of this liturgy might be important to the survival of our species. I don’t know, but I do know that this experience made me feel “at home” again.