I remember reading Aesop’s Fables and Mother Goose stories to my kids when they are little and actually would sit still while I read to them! These stories contained cultural lessons that have been passed down for generations. Humpty Dumpty, Old Mother Hubbard, The Hare and the Tortoise, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and so many others gave me a way to tell morals and lessons in a fashion that has been used forever to pass on cultural wisdom.
So imagine my surprise when I was talking to a group of 11 to 14-year-olds and I mentioned David and Goliath, and many of them had no idea what I was talking about. A generation has been disconnected from a communal memory through stories and the consequences for society may mean a whole generation of ill-prepared adults for mature living.
This is why I want you to handle the scriptures every day, and why I do this work. You being familiar with these stories equips you to apply wisdom to your everyday life. And today’s story is actually quite significant as we discover the power of the Temporary Tent and the Eternal Temple.
Look at our lesson today in Hebrews 9:1-7:
BRETHREN, the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties; but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people.
St. Paul needs to remind these Jewish converts to Christianity that there’s no going back to the Temporary Tent Moses had set up in the Wilderness after the Jews were liberated from Egypt. The very nature of their movable worship area was meant to be temporary. And even though amazing miracles occurred in the Tabernacle, these people needed to be reminded that there was something more to come that would mean the end of the Temporary Tent.
The regulations for worship in this “earthly sanctuary” was meant to teach the people how to relate and know God and how to relate and know each other. This was the beginning of the restoration of humanity to God’s true intentions for our creation. The Tent had symbols for light, gold fixtures, and miracle bread all meant to teach the people that God wants them to see the beauty and to know He will give them the true food they deeply need. The rhythm of prayers, the shape of the liturgy in the Tent, and even how the priests were dressed, all were meant to be signposts to deeper meanings and eternal wisdom. But the Tabernacle itself was created to come to the end of its usefulness and purpose.
All too often we get enamored with the trappings and get fixated on the outward rule-keeping and think this is all there is. But that always means there will be a Generation that will not know WHY the trappings are there, and the Generation after that forgetful Generation won’t bother with the trappings at all. This is why we Orthodox must always focus on the WHY of our rituals and pass on this purposeful embrace to the next generation. Catechising you and your family are absolutely necessary if the Orthodox Faith is going to be more than merely a cultural decoration of a “Temporary Tent.” We have to look behind the beauty of the liturgy and the saints and the vestments and the candles and the incense to the Eternal Temple that is the Church of our Lord Jesus. And YOU are that Temple, not the buildings we build but the lives we see transformed by the Eternal wisdom of the Faith, once and for all, delivered to the saints.
Today, are you still stuck in the Temporary Tent, or are you discovering the wisdom preserved in our beautiful Faith that is meant to transform your everyday life? This awesome Orthodox Faith is the Eternal Temple of God’s People to draw everyone to BE Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, You teach us using all the senses You created in us. Sight, sound, taste, touch, and even smell, are all meant to draw us to deeper, eternal wisdom. And You have gifted us Your beautiful Church that is meant to teach us we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Please grant us the curiosity to discover the wisdom preserved in these stories and symbols so they never become ends in themselves, but bring us closer to You. Amen