I was reading psalm 84 today which begins:
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you. Ps 84: 1-4
I have always read this psalm and thought about God’s dwelling place as whatever church I was serving in as pastor. We tend to think of the church as the dwelling place of God. Indeed, we sometimes call our church, “the house of God.” I read this psalm a little differently these days when we can’t worship in our church because of the high incidence of Covid 19 in our area. These days I think about that dwelling place of God and cast about for where that might be.
I’m sure the psalmist was thinking about the Temple as he wrote this psalm. If you look at the remainder of the psalm it’s possible the psalmist was on pilgrimage to the Temple. With the way the psalmist longs for the Temple, it’s clear he isn’t there…. Yet!
We believe the psalmist knows the Temple exists, but it’s also possible the Temple doesn’t exist which might explain the longing. There were certainly periods of Israel’s history when the Temple in Jerusalem did not exist. After the devastating loss to the Babylonians, the Temple was destroyed. We read that the exiled Jewish people who were enslaved to the Babylonians, sat down by the river there and wept for the memory of what had been in Jerusalem. Again, after the Jewish Roman war the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. This was a terrible devastation to the Jewish people, and the Temple remains unbuilt to this day. What does one do when one’s experience of God is tied up in place?
For the early Christians, the answer was that the very presence of God was no longer tied to Jerusalem and the Temple. The Spirit of God was free to move where it willed, and Paul believed that the Holy Spirit dwelt in people of faith. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. “ I Co 6:19.
These are days for deepening spirituality. It is a time to connect with God in the quiet of your home, or out for a walk in your neighborhood or in a loving act of kindness for another. There will be a day when we connect with God and with each other in our church again, but for now… we need to grow our faith a little and find other ways to connect with the God who is always closer than the air we breathe.
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