I recently learned about a Christian icon that I’ve grown particularly drawn to. It’s a door knocker on the sanctuary door of the Durham Cathedral in Northeast England. For one, it’s in the shape of a lion, which is badass in and of itself. But the meaning of the knocker shows us the purpose of church in a Christian sense…
Those who ‘had committed a great offense’ (such as murder in self-defense or breaking out of prison) could rap the knocker and would be given 37 days of sanctuary within which they could try to reconcile with their enemies or plan their escape.
I think of this symbolic door knocker when I think of the mission of the church: to be a sanctuary for sinners, not a reward system for elite so-called do-gooders.
I think of the people who utilized that knocker. They weren’t the neat and tidy people who were proud of their accomplishments and accolades, spiritual or otherwise. They grabbed that knocker in desperation because it was their only option. They weren’t dressed to the nines with perfectly coiffed hair. They were sweaty, bloody, grimy, disheveled, panting, heaving, fugitives who needed… Rescue. Who needed to be freed from their prior actions, not rewarded for them.
Only problem is, a lot of churches are filled with the spiritually/morally/socially proud who think they’ve gotten themselves “in”. In other words, people who don’t need a knocker.
Sanctuary is for people who are seeking freedom from their lives not rewards for their life.
The congregation I serve now (Washoe County Detention Center) is full of people who need a knocker. I hope the same is true for the parish I hope to serve in the future, wherever that is. Because in earnest, we all need a knocker. But the world is a place where we can’t outrightly admit it.
Church should be the one place for busted people to break down and fallen people to fall down. Safely. In sanctuary. Hands gripping that knocker and looking towards the resurrection hope that only Christ offers.