23 January 2018
It was something to behold, alright.
David danced whirling round before the Lord with all his might, wearing a linen loincloth round him. Thus David and all the House of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with acclaim and the sound of the horn.
There were music and dancing, sheep and oxen were sacrificed and free food was handed out. The Israelites were celebrating the arrival of the ark of the covenant into the citadel of David. The ark, you may remember, was said to contain the two stone tablets with the ten commandments inscribed on them, along with Aaron’s rod and a jar of the miraculous manna that the Israelites had collected in the desert. The ark was a lot more than a receptacle for seriously holy relics, however. For the Israelites, it was the Presence of God Himself.
According to the book of Exodus, during the sojourn in the desert, Moses set up a ‘tabernacle’, a portable structure that became known as ‘the tent of meeting’, to house the ark. Moses would enter the inner room in the tabernacle and speak with the Lord, and when God replied, Moses heard the Voice coming from between the two golden cherubim that were positioned facing each other on the lid of the ark. (Exodus 25.22) Three hundred years later, when Solomon had completed the temple and placed the ark in the holy of holies at the centre, the whole temple was filled with the cloud of the glory of the Lord. (1 Kings 8.1-13)
If you read the whole story, David was worried about bringing the ark to Jerusalem.
In the verses preceding today’s reading there is the salutary tale of Uzzah, the son of Abinadab, who made the mistake of putting his hand out to steady the ark when the cart it was sitting on started rocking after the oxen pulling the cart stumbled. He fell dead on the spot. Seems a bit tough on Uzzah, but the message was clear: The ark is holy, God is mighty, and no one should be in any doubt about the divine voltage at hand.
The presence of the ark produced a compelling combination of hope, love and fear. There is a word to describe that feeling: ‘awe’. The Presence of God went with the ark, and awe was the appropriate response. For Christians, the Presence is mediated to us by a number of means, with none more powerful than the Eucharist. We adore the sacred Presence in the blessed sacrament. Perhaps most amazing of all, we eat the Presence in communion. We eat it! And by eating, we become living tabernacles ourselves, a source of life, blessing and healing as carriers of the Presence to the world around us.
Let’s learn from King David and rediscover awe of the Presence today.