The Once and Future Tabernacle
When the pandemic closed the churches, it felt like being kicked out of the Garden again. Desperate to stay alive, congregations invented online services overnight, and now virtual church is here to stay. But where is here?
We are worshippers tabernacled (yup, you can verb it; I looked it up) in our homes, like the primitive Christians in house churches. Ministers are now voice crying in the wilderness, like the ancient prophets, relying on the spirit and our bandwidth. Many of the smaller churches may never physically reopen. And in some ways, it felt like the end of everything.
I think it’s just the beginning.
“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
– Winston S. Churchill, November 1942
But what in the world is a tabernacle?
For years, since I grew up unchurched, as they say, I only had a vague idea of what a tabernacle was, except that it was the place where the Mormons had choir rehearsals. But I loved the sound of the word — still do — and I knew it meant something specific and important.
So I looked it up. Today it means different things architecturally, but Exodus 25 describes an elaborate tent that the Israelites were supposed to build in the desert to cover the ark — not the boat kind, like in the 2014 Russell Crowe movie, but the carrier for the covenant kind, like in the 1981 Harrison Ford movie. (Look, movies have been transmitting culture for generations, right?) Anyway, you couldn’t just leave the ark uncovered out there in the middle of the desert, so Yahweh told them how to make a tabernacle for it.
And oh — the detail! It goes on, for pages. The ark is made of acacia wood, and so is something called the mercy seat, but they don’t bother to explain what that is. But next they must have lampstands of gold, and ten curtains of fine twined linen, colored blue, and purple, and scarlet, with cherubim, naturally.
Can you imagine the Pinterest boards?