Readings: 1 Kings 8:1-7, 9-13; Psalm 132; Mark 6:53-56
Ten days ago we heard about David’s plan to build a house for the Lord, a suitable dwelling for the Ark of the Covenant. But through the prophet Nathan, David learned that he would not be the one to build a temple for the Lord. In the first place, it was the Lord who was constructing a house for David, not the other way round. The dynasty of David, his royal house, would last forever and the temple in Jerusalem, when it did come to be built, was constructed by Solomon, David’s son.
The Books of the Kings open with an account of the death of David and the succession of Solomon. He asked for wisdom above all other gifts, enabling him to rule in such a way that peace broke out and the kingdom rested from warfare. It was now time to build the Temple and Solomon gathered the best craftsmen and artists to work on this great building which was to be the place of the presence of God. It was to house the Ark of the Covenant, the Tent of Meeting, the tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments, and the other treasures that sealed the covenant between the Lord and the people of Israel.
The Temple was to be the place of prayer, the meeting place between the people and God. It was to be the place of sacrifice and the centre in which the great liturgies of Israel were celebrated. We have been hearing about the planning and building the Temple, and today’s reading tells us about the liturgy during which the Temple was dedicated. The first great act of this liturgy was to bring the Ark of the Covenant from Mount Zion, the City of David, to the Temple and to enthrone it in the Holy of Holies, under the protecting wings of the Cherubim. Inside the Ark are the stones containing the Ten Commandments, at once the revelation of God’s wisdom for his people and the contract of their relationship with God. As the Ark is placed in its new dwelling the dark cloud in which God dwells came to settle around it, filling the Holy of Holies. This mysterious cloud both revealed and hid the presence of the Lord. It was the sign that the glory of God had come to dwell in the midst of God’s people.
There is a paradox at the heart of faith which is at once strong and certain in its grasp of truth, and at the same time obscure and mysterious. Faith, as Saint Paul says, means ‘seeing in a glass darkly’. This paradox is expressed very powerfully by the dark cloud in which God dwells. The presence of God is certain – who could doubt the presence of a dark cloud? But the nature of God, what that cloud contains, the ‘face’ of God, remains hidden. No one can see God and live, the Bible tells us, and in another text ‘truly you are a God who hides yourself’.
And yet this hidden God revealed himself to Moses and to David. At least he revealed his will for his people which gives us some understanding of what God himself is like. We are to be righteous as God is righteous and holy as God is holy. The ‘shekinah’, which was the clouded space above the Ark and between the Cherubim was regarded as the holiest place in creation. But it was simply an empty space: the people could be sure that God was there even though God’s glory was revealed simply as a dark cloud.
By contrast today’s gospel reading tells us that people ‘recognised Jesus immediately’ and flocked to him for healing. Many New Testament texts teach us that Jesus is the ‘new Temple’, the new place of the presence of God, the new meeting place between God and the people. At the moment of Jesus’ death the curtain in the Temple was torn in two. What does it mean? That holiest place is opened up to our gaze. The cloud disperses to reveal the face of God. And what do we see? We see Jesus, the human face of God. We see Jesus dying on the cross, the definitive revelation of God’s love. We see the blood poured out and the Spirit breathed forth, by which a new and everlasting covenant is established with humanity.
The only Son, who comes to us from the Father’s heart, has now revealed God to us. This Son of David establishes in his own blood the Kingdom that will last forever.