Monday, March 23, 2009

the dwelling place of God

In the history of Israel, the temple is the dwelling place of God (Psalm 84). Much of the most ancient biblical narrative is shaped by the search for, construction of, destruction of and reconstruction of the temple, the dwelling place of God, and for good reason: there was a strong desire to be in the presence of the Lord (see the psalms of ascent, 120-134). At the beginning of the gospel, Jesus is questioned by some of his critics, and he responds sharply: "destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it" (John 2). John comments simply that he was "speaking of the temple of his body" (2. 21). In the letters to the church at Corinth, Paul is wrestling with immorality in the community of those who are following "in the way", and he asks a question: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?" (1.6.19).

There is, in the flow of the history of scripture, the development of an idea: the dwelling place of God is a place (Jerusalem), it is in the incarnation (Jesus), and it is in and among those who follow Jesus (the church).

As we approach Holy Week and Easter, we are listening to the last words of Jesus from the cross i our congregation. In the tradition the first of these words is the public prayer of Jesus to his Father, in the presence of his torturers: "Father, forgive them"(Luke 23). Later, the first deacon, Stephen, as he is being tortured, will recall these words just prior to his own death, and will speak again in prayer: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them"(Acts 7). Luke records, without comment, that Saul was present to witness this event, and that he consented to the death of Stephen.

Many biblical scholars sense in the words of Stephen the beginning of Saul's (Paul's) conversion to the way. Paul does experience the risen Christ with whom Stephen prays, and he begins, after a time, his own work of bearing witness to this message of forgiveness and grace. He would live in the tension between law and gospel, and at the end of the letter to the Galatians, which wrestles with the divisions that are present in the church, he says simply: "I carry the marks of Jesus branded in my body"( 6. 17).

The dwelling place of God is surely in this tradition of radical forgiveness. "The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (a verse that runs like a thread throughout the Hebrew Bible); Jesus embodies this very nature of God, and especially on the cross; and his followers turn their eyes toward him, especially in the season of Lent, in remembrance. A broken church finds its life in the midst of a broken world, and yet it is the dwelling place of the Crucified God.


Blogger Questing Parson said...


3:59 PM  

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