Port-a-Temple

Thirty years ago, I completed an internship at Gustavus Adolphus College. Though my office was in a neighboring building, I walked by or through Christ’s Chapel several time a day. The chapel’s simple, yet provocative architecture often stimulated spiritual reflection.

For example, the chapel is situated in the center of the campus where its high steeple bears witness to God’s central place in the mission of the college. It has clear windows on all four sides, so that worshippers can visually interact with the other college functions. You could see the science center, the library, or the dining hall from your pew. Some saw this as a distraction but also it reminded me that God does not cut me off from the world, but rather prepares me to re-enter it as God’s servant.

Christ’s Chapel also had a unique outer “shell” or wall. The wall panels are long triangular pieces with stain glass separating each panel. The “wavy walls” shimmered in the sunlight. One day after worship Professor Robert Esbjornson explained that the shimmering walls served as a representation of the ancient Israelites’ tabernacle or tent of meeting. When the Israelites left Egypt, they needed a symbolic reminder of God’s presence in their midst. So they were instructed to build a fabric tent of meeting. God said to Moses, “And have them make me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Christ Chapel was a re-imagined tabernacle in a contemporary setting, .

The tabernacle became  a visual reminder of God’s presence and power in Israel’s midst. “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34).  In the time of King Solomon the portable tabernacle was replaced with a permanent stone temple.

The portability of the tabernacle continues to challenge me. Too often we want to restrict God to church building or temples. We compartmentalize our space and time. Perhaps we need tabernacles today that can be placed on Wall Street or in front of the Capital, in our homes and our workplaces, to remind us that God travels with us. Of course, at Pentecost God’s Spirit filled the people of God creating a portable sanctuary in each of us. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (I Corinthian 3:16).  How are you carrying God?

Lord Jesus, make me mindful of your presence in my life.

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