“Why should I come to church? I can find God in my tree stand or out on the golf course.” People tell me this all the time. I know it is true because I sincerely believe that there has never been a game of golf played where the name of God was not mentioned at least once. Seriously though, God really is everywhere – the golf course, the bar, the bowling alley, even the tattoo parlor. So why should I come to church when God is everywhere?
The Holy of Holies
God has chosen certain places to be holier than others. In the book of Exodus God has Moses fashion the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25). This is a large rectangular box that is covered in gold and filled with reminders of God’s presence. The Levites carry it with them into the Promised Land. Later, King David has it brought into Jerusalem. It takes two tries, however, because he underestimates the sacredness of God’s presence (see II Sam 6). King Solomon builds a fine temple. In the middle of the Temple is the Holy of Holies which contains the Ark of the Covenant. Only the High Priest can enter this sacred space. Every year the Israelites would travel to the temple to worship God and offer sacrifices. God is present everywhere, but he is especially present in certain places.
The New Temple
Jesus appears on Earth as God’s presence in human form. Jesus himself is the Holy of Holies. At one point he argues with the Jews saying, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:19-21). Jesus later says about the Temple, "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down." (Mark 13:2). When Jesus dies on the cross, the veil of the temple is torn in two from top to bottom (Mat 27:51). Then in about 70 AD, just a few years after Herod had finished building the temple, the Romans came and completely destroyed it. It has never been rebuilt. You see, the temple has lost its value. The new presence of God in the world is not a new temple but Jesus himself.
The House of God
Anywhere Jesus is present is a holy place. Our Gospel reading calls the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali blessed because Jesus is there (Mt 4). Jesus is everywhere, but he is especially present in a church. The church building is not a temple but rather more a ‘sacramental’ that speaks of God’s presence through stone and glass. The stained glass windows speak of His presence in the saints. The music praises God. The candles and statues encourage us to think of God. Your prayers mingle with those of past generations. Most of us find it easier to pray in a church than in other places. Those who have seen their church closed know the deep significance of a building. It is more than a pretty space; it symbolizes in a real and powerful way that God is with us. Church is a space where the mysterious and hidden God shows us a little of his presence. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven! (Gen. 28:17)