Enter to Worship, Depart to Serve

Friday, January 12, 2024
The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster

The Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia: Barcelona, Spain

If you’ve been to Barcelona, you’ve been to the many-peaked mountain that is The Sagrada Familia. When you “enter to worship,” you set foot inside the dream of Josep Maria Bocabella who envisioned a “people’s cathedral” that might “awaken sleeping hearts from their tepor,” and it is hard to remain asleep as you enter the fairytale-like Gothic and Art Nouveau style basilica designed by Antoni Gaudi in 1882. You become alive to the otherworldly forest that is the sanctuary, with tree-like columns and pillars. There are no straight lines anywhere in The Sagrada Familia because Gaudi wanted to mirror the Creator’s creation. He claims that straight lines do not occur in nature, and so the holy space is designed inspired by the natural world with honeycomb gates, salamanders in the “Cavern of the Last Supper,” and stone-carved turtles, birds, plants, frogs and insects around every corner. When you “enter to worship,” you are entering the heart of God’s creation.

The Sagrada Familia: Barcelona, Spain

When you leave The Sagrada Familia, you “depart to serve” inspired by the guiding theological commitment to community, equity and solidarity. Bocabella set out to create a “people’s cathedral” and 142 years later, that vision is still lived out with the intentional pledge to see to the welfare of the construction workers who still labor to build. There is a school for workers’ families, and a “social action fund” for the socially vulnerable in Barcelona. Maybe you are most inspired by the basilica’s vision to “help build a society we would all like to live in” that is humane and more just. Maybe you are inspired by the sanctuary’s guiding metaphor that “we are towers of the same humanity.” Maybe Gaudi’s vision itself helps you “depart to serve,” whose ecologically-centered approach reminds us that “the tree outside my window is a great teacher.”

Theological Addendum: There is an ancient proverb that honors grandparents who plant trees under whose shade only their great-great-grandchildren might sit. In the same vein, the decades-long trajectory for completing the Sagrada Familia takes a kind of faith in future generations. When asked how long it might take to construct his basilica, Gaudi replied slyly, “my client is in no hurry” implying that God’s clock is eternal. Gaudi died in 1926, and even a century after his death, construction is still ongoing. As Harry Emerson Fosdick notes in his book “The Meaning of Service,” “In Europe there are cathedrals that took as long as six centuries in building…at every stage in building all the past depended on the present. The generation then alive could leave to ruin and neglect, or bring to culmination, the things their [ancestors] had conceived. Any sensitive [person] at work upon the structure during the many centuries of its building, may well have heard [generations past] pleading: Lo, how great a thing we planned! And now the responsibility for its furtherance falls on you; fail us not!” We are each part of a generation passing the baton one to the next, participating not just in creating sacred spaces, but in the Christian longing for a more just world. May we both “enter to worship” and “depart to serve” in equal measure.

January 11, 2024

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