By Ronnie McBrayer
The words “holy” and “sacred” are used interchangeably. But, I think there is a huge difference between the two. Sacred comes from the Latin, “sacrum.” You might recognize that “sacrum” is also the name of the bones in your pelvis. The ancient Romans called this part of the body “sacred.” It is from where life springs. Thus, the sacred was anything that had to be protected.
That is an excellent picture of how we employ sacredness. People create sacred rituals that draw lines, build barriers, and protect and secure space and turf. We feel we have to keep everything that is perceived as a threat on the outside.
During one of my pastorates, we moved from a shabby little storefront building to a beautiful, magnificent sanctuary. It was an incredible upgrade with pews, a baptistery, a steeple, and other sacred things. We had been picking up children on our little church bus and bringing them to worship. When we moved to our new building we kept picking up these children, but I knew it would not last.
During our first week of Vacation Bible School in the new building one of the church mothers became enraged when a group of “those dirty bus kids” ran their hands down the newly painted wall as they walked to class. A campaign began immediately to stop the bus ministry. There would be no place or space for such children.
The sacred is the ritualistic dividing behavior of people; but the holy is something different. The holy is something that is “whole” or “healthy.” Holiness is something that cannot be divided. It is something that is complete, unbroken, and intact.
Thus, holiness is not something defined by lines of segregation or by different shades of acceptance. It is defined by openness and welcome. The holy doesn’t alienate, it invites. The holy doesn’t separate, it welcomes. The holy doesn’t divide, it embraces.
Whereas what is sacred is a small, restricted space that must be sheltered and guarded, the old Norse word for “holy” means “a large living room,” where people are made to feel very much at home. I pray that God makes us holy: Whole, healthy, welcoming people! But I also pray that he never allow us to become a sacred people, for when we lose our ability to be hospitable, inviting the outsider in, we have lost our unique witness in the world.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.