By Eric Rucker
November 6, 2020
Ezekiel 10:18: “Then the glory of the LORD went out from the threshold of the Temple.”
This is perhaps the most shocking statement in all of the Hebrew Scriptures. The prophet Ezekiel is telling the exiled Israelites: God has left the Temple! The Temple in Jerusalem was synonymous with God’s presence. Basically, “Temple = God.” Subsequently, “Destroyed Temple = Destroyed God.” We cannot imagine the disorientation these people faced, seeing their worship place torn down by foreign armies, and hearing that God’s Spirit had departed.
Ezekiel and the people were then presented with two existential options:
1.) Hold to their old assumption about God’s tie to the Temple, which would mean that their God was in fact dead and gone.
2.) Embark on the heartbreaking but creative process of considering that God might exist outside of the Temple’s boundaries.
Israel was learning here how to distinguish between the containers that held God for them and the essence of their faith itself. The container was the Temple building, the rituals, the practices. But the essence was something more fundamental, as told later in Ezekiel: “God will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh, so that you may follow my statutes.” (11:19)
The Temple was an important container that helped facilitate God’s transformation of the people; but the essence was the transformation itself, the relationship of God and this covenant people, as they lived out justice and neighborliness on the earth, in obedience to the Law.
The challenges of 2020 have brought a barrage of assaults upon the “Temples” we have built to house God. These Temples – or containers – were often beautiful and effective for the time in which they were created. Many of these containers blessed us and transmitted to us the good news of the Gospel. But in a time that demands radical adaptation, they might no longer be serving us.
What are the “Temples” in your life that have fallen? How might you – with grief and gratitude –acknowledge them?
Organizational forms, physical spaces, certain theological language, financial security…or perhaps your entire concept of “church.” If we believe that God’s presence is contingent upon any of these, then we will have to accept that recent events have brought an end to God’s presence in our lives.
But if we can hear Ezekiel’s invitation to see these as containers that come and go, we can ask the more fundamental question: What is the essence of our faith?
Christian history is full of exile and return. It is marked by our ancestors asking what is essential to our faith that must be transmitted to our children, even in new containers.
Jesus passed on to us this wisdom, which we now call the paschal mystery: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
Take some time to thank God for the containers that brought us this far. Celebrate and grieve. But try not to cling to them, because God is still alive, even as old containers pass away. In other words, “God has left the Temple!” Hear God’s ever-moving spirit asking you: “What is the essence of our faith?”