2014 – Cycle B
2 Samuel 7:1-15, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
The tabernacle is the repository in which we reserve the Eucharistic Bread for the sick and the dying. Church Law dictates that the tabernacle “is to be immovable, made of solid and opaque material, and locked” and that “the person responsible…is to take care that the key…is safeguarded most diligently.” [see Canon 938] Understandably such precautions are taken so that the Eucharist will not be profaned.
But consider how contradictory this Church canon is to Scripture and what it says about our relationship with God?
The word tabernacle, transliterated from the Latin, tabernaculum means, tent! Like the tents of modern north African and middle eastern Arab Bedouins, the tents of the Mosaic and Davidic periods were made of animal skins and woven materials. Torn by the desert winds and threatened by the forces of nature they were patched and had to periodically be rebuilt. And can not a comparison be made with a bivouac or contemporary tent? Is nylon construction with spring-loaded poles that can bend in the wind any stronger against the elements?
For its ability to be mobile a tent pays the heavy price of having to be fragile and thus vulnerable. Since the days God led the tribes of Israel out of Egypt to the period of King David the sign of God’s presence with his people was a tent – a tent by God’s choice.
Now consider the comparison:
a tent: mobile, open to the desert breezes, compact, fragile, vulnerable.
a tabernacle: immovable, solid, opaque and under lock and key.
Consider how contradictory Church Law is to the biblical experience and what it says about our relationship with God?
God chose to make his presence known by a tent, the same dwelling of the tribes of Israel. In so doing God identifies with the people. Wherever Israel went – whether wandering and complaining in the desert or entering and settling in the Promised Land, the tent of The Presence was packed up and went with them. A tent, over which the people have no control in regard to the weather, is centered on God.
Conversely a tabernacle centers on humans and suggests our presumed control over God.
- Do not lock and key speak of a lack of trust(?) in our selves, in each other and in God?
- Do we think that it is possible in any manner to confine God?
- Have we not learned from experience that whenever we grasp or try to control another person the relationship eludes us like sand sifting through our hands? Is this not also true of our relationship with God?
God will dwell where and how God chooses to dwell.
Consider the arrogance of King David (and us) to think we can do anything for God ( I am going to build God a Temple!), protect God (under lock and key), or offer God something greater than the universe which continues to reveal the creativity and evolving power of the Holy Spirit? In comparison how insignificant was the Temple of Jerusalem that David’s son Solomon was to build. The remainder of a wall from a Second Temple silently bears witness to what we think we do for God.
Thus God reminds David (and us) of what God has done for him.
“It was I who took you from the pasture…
I have been with you wherever you went…
I have destroyed your enemies…
I will make you famous…
I will fix a place for you…
I will plant [you] without further disturbance…
I will give you rest from all your enemies…” [2 Samuel 7:8-10]
The relationship is not between equals. How could it be otherwise?
God will dwell and act where and how God chooses to dwell and act.
In the person of Mary of Nazareth God again chooses a tabernaculum – a tent, that of a fragile and vulnerable human body within which to dwell. Mary shows us that the human body and soul like a tent, can be…open to the movement of the Holy Spirit like desert breezes; …vulnerable – as her experience of the divine causes her to be greatly troubled and fearful; …mobile – as she runs in haste to help her aged cousin Elizabeth in her pregnancy; …fragile – as she collapses under the weight of the dead body of her Son (another tent of God’s dwelling).
Though our motives may be honorable, tabernacles speak of our desire for control and our futility before God. Despite our vulnerable and fragile lives, tents speak of God’s willingness to dwell among us and trust in us.
The approaching feast of Christmas is not about what we can do for God but about what God has and continues to do for us. The feast reminds us of where God has chosen to dwell – out of our control – by being as close to us as the breath within the tent of our bodies.