Tuesday, June 21, 2005

God's House

The first reading for next Sunday, II Kings 4:8-11, 14-16, contains some interesting elements related to God's temple, though that is not immediately apparent.

When the Shunamite woman outifts a place for Elisha (the "Man of God") and Gehazi to stay, she gives them a bed, chair and lampstand (menorah). Let me make two observations.

First is that the four items are all accoutrements in the temple, at least in theory. The only visible two are the table and lampstand, but God's throne is presumed to be above the ark of the covenant and its cherubim. Furthermore, it is also presumed that God rests in some way. That He would rest in the temple is indicated simply by the fact that the temple is simply the house where God lives. In many ways, it is like any other house, like the apartment furnished for Elisha. When we visit a church today, we visit God's house, represented in time and space as a building with the usual necessities of any lived-in space.

An exception is the presence of a chair. The word in Hebrew kisse, also means 'throne'. Of course, all that means is that there was no distinction between a chair and a throne. In the ancient world, people sat on benches or on the ground (this is true in many contemporary cultures). To sit in a chair was to make a statement of individuality and social importance. We see remnants of this in Catholicism. When the pope pronounces infallibly, he does so ex cathedra, "from the chair;" that is, he does so officially in his office as pope. Bishops sit in cathedrae and preside in cathedrals, the churchs that house chairs. Priests preside at Mass from a chair. Whether or not church remodelers are aware consciously, there surely is significance, and not necessarily a healthy significance in the move toward giving everyone chairs instead of pews.

Peace to you and my prayers for each of you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Donald Rumsfeld is briefing president Bush: "Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed."

"Oh no!" exclaims the president, "that's terrible!"

His staff is stunned at this unprecedented display of emotion, watching as Bush sits, head in hands.

Finally, he looks up and asks, "How many is a brazillion?"

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