The children of Israel, through Moses, invited the Lord, the God of their fathers, to travel with them. This is how some suggest the divine name itself should be understood: ‘I am the God who will be with you’. They believed that God had accepted their invitation just as they had responded to his call to come out to the wilderness to worship him. The tabernacle, and the tent which covered it, are the first holy place or temple in which God’s glory comes to dwell and where Moses meets with God. When the cloud, the glory of God, lifted, the people too rose and continued on their way. When it rested, they rested. By day it was a cloud and by night a fire burned in the heart of the cloud.
The Lord is already ‘God with us’, guiding his people not just physically, indicating when to move and when to stop, but also by the words of the Law, teaching them how to live, and sharing with them his own wisdom and holiness.
Famously, the prologue of St John’s gospel tells us that ‘the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us’. The Word, Wisdom, or Holiness of God, was made flesh, became a human being, Jesus of Nazareth. Here is a new Emmanuel, a new reality, the Son of God dwelling among us as the tabernacle or tent of God’s presence. He is the definitive gift of God’s Wisdom to us, the final revelation of God’s Holiness, and forever now the place of the encounter with God.
The Spirit of Jesus, dwelling in us, makes us to be temples, tents, or tabernacles, places where God, the Blessed Trinity, now dwells. The Church itself, the community of believers, is the Body of Christ. So we do not need to go to special places or buildings, nor do we need special people to take our place in the encounter with God. We do not need anyone to teach us, we read in the first letter of St John, because we have received the Spirit of Christ. A new and remarkable intimacy is established, something more than friendship, a new creation where it is not now we who live but Christ who lives in us.
The gospel reading reminds us that the judgement is also always under way in the paschal mystery of Christ. The Word is a double-edged sword, discerning and distinguishing, separating out the good and the evil. Those who live in the state of grace know this better than anyone else. They see it more clearly than those of us who are still in our sins. It is why the saints are more sensitive to the weeds in themselves: they are more sensitive to the guidance of God’s Word, they see more clearly where they are deviating from it, and they see very quickly where they still need to be pruned. But they see also the gift of God, the union with God in the Spirit, as clouds dissolve and fires burn out and buildings fall away and there is just the Lover and the beloved, the Redeemer and the redeemed, Eternal Wisdom and the human child, face to face.