Tag Archives: tabernacle

Playing during Worship

Yesterday during worship, I pitched my small backpacking tent as part of the children’s sermon. I wanted to communicate the ancient Israelite experience of the tabernacle or tent of meeting as being portable. I had practiced setting it up prior to the message and thought I had it ready to go. But my practice session was outside with plenty of space. Inside on Sunday, it was a different story.

The poles are very long, even for a small tent. I was concerned that none of the children be struck by the poles, but I forgot to warn our musicians. As I whipped one pole around to insert into the tent sleeve, I nearly blinded the pianist. Fortunately she has quick hands and avoided any serious damage. I was sweating bullets until the tent finally popped up. After the tent was up I placed our altar Bible in the tent as a reminder of the ark of the covenant which rested inside Israel’s tabernacle.

Of course I wonder if the children made the connection between the Biblical story and our brief experience with a small backpacking tent. Hard to judge. Yet for a moment I saw in their faces a moment of astonishment or surprise when the tent “popped” up. I remember creating tents as a child out of blankets, chairs and small tables. It was a form of play that I enjoyed. I wonder if we had a brief moment of “play” in worship yesterday as the tent sprang up and later as the children walked through it.

In seminary, I remember reading an essay regarding worship, work and play. The article suggested that we sometime confuse the three: we tend to worship work, to work at play, and to play at worship. People often overstress their careers, become too competitive at their leisure activities, and behave lackadaisical at worship. We forget that worship is entering the holy presence of Almighty God.

Still the “play” moment in worship yesterday had a bit of awe and wonder within it. And I trust that God delighted in the children’s joy. I sure did.

How do you sort out work, play and worship?

Lord Jesus, let me find my purpose, my joy, my life in you.


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.