Three Tabernacles Of God

+  MARY AS TABERNACLE  +

March 25 of every year marks and commemorates the Annunciation.

Icon of the Annunciation

Icon of the Annunciation

This is the day in which the Archangel Gabriel informs Mary of God’s plan and purpose for her:  that she will conceive and bear the Son of God.  With her response of obedience to Gabriel’s words, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38a), Mary ushers in the salvation of humanity and creation:  God the Son — her Creator — enters into creation as a creature to be its Savior:

And in answering, the angel said to her, ‘The Spirit of God will come upon [epeleusetai] you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow [episkiasei] you, therefore the One begotten is holy and shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1: 35).

Prior the the conception of God in the womb of Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit, we read of God’s manifestation in the Tabernacle of Testimony constructed according to Moses’ directives given to him by God.  We read this translation of the Septuagint text of Exodus 40:  34 – 35:

And the Cloud covered the Tabernacle of of Testimony, and the Glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.  And Moses was not able to enter into the Tabernacle of Testimony, because the Cloud overshadowed [episkiazen] it, and the Glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.

The presence of the Greek verb episkiazein (overshadow) demonstrates the parallel.  The Tabernacle of the Old Testament was “overshadowed” and the Glory of the Lord filled it.  This Tabernacle served as a type, or prefiguring of, the first New Testament Tabernacle:  Mary.  She too was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and the Glory of the Lord — God the Son — filled her womb.  God dwelt there for nine months as he took human form in and from her human uterus[1].

After serving nine months as tabernacle for God now in human flesh, she gives birth to Christ in Bethlehem (meaning “house of bread”), and offers him, the Bread of Life, for the life of the world as she lays him in the manger — a feeding trough.  Mary places the Bread which has descended from heaven[2] in the manger in symbolic, prophetic anticipation of the Eucharist!

+  BREAD AND WINE AS TABERNACLE  +

mt-bread-wine

Bread and wine as offerings

Now we transition from Mary to another New Testament tabernacle:  the bread and wine of the Eucharist which become the Body and Blood of Christ.  There is a sacramental parallel between The Tabernacle of Testimony, Mary, and the Eucharist.  As with the first two mentioned Tabernacles, so it is with the eucharistic bread and wine.  In the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit comes upon physical matter that God the Son may indwell it.  We read from the epiclesis of the Divine Liturgy — that part of the Anaphora where the Holy Spirit is called upon by the priest:

Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable and bloodless worship, and ask Thee, and pray Thee, and supplicate Thee:  Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here offered.

Upon these words, together with his actions of blessing, the priest then concludes, “And make this Bread the precious Body of Thy Christ…and that which is in this Cup the precious Blood of Thy Christ…making the change by Thy Holy Spirit.”  The offered bread and wine now become the Body and Blood of Christ.  As we read from St. John’s sixth chapter, we learn this of the Eucharist:

This is the bread which is descending from heaven, in order that whoever might eat of it might not die.  I am the living bread which descended from heaven:  whoever might eat of this bread will live forever, and the bread which I shall give in behalf of the life of the world is my flesh (Jn 6: 50 —51).

As Mary offered Christ, The Body and Blood of Christ of the Eucharist are also offered.  They are offered by the priest to be consumed by the redeemed people of God.  One of the purposes of Communion is to bring about union between Christ and the Christian:  “The one who eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6: 56).  Note back to a portion of the epiclesis, “Send down thy Holy Spirit upon us…”  By this overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, Christ enters into every part of the Christians’ being by the consumption of his Body and Blood.  As a result Christ indwells the Christian.  Thus, the Christian, too, is a Tabernacle of the Most High God by the work of the Holy Spirit!

+  THE CHRISTIAN AS TABERNACLE  +

By the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, by faithful participation in the

Child receiving communion

Child receiving communion

Sacrament of the Eucharist there is relational union between Christ and the Christian.  Yet, the union between Christ and Christian also comes about by an abiding in his commandments and love:

If you abide in my words and my words abide in you, whatever you will ask — it shall happen for you.  By this my Father is glorified, in order that you might bear much fruit and become my disciples.  Just as the Father loved me, I also loved you:  abide in my love.  If you should keep my commandments, my love abides in you, and just as I have kept my Father’s commandments, I also abide in his love (John 15: 7 — 10).

Hence, the Christian serving as tabernacle for our Lord is to bear fruit.  Now,  since Christ indwells the Christian, whatever we do according to Christ’s love and word it is ultimately a bearing, or offering, of Christ before the world.  Thus, we are serving as Mary served when she bore God in human flesh that day in Bethlehem and laid him in the feeding trough.  Thus, we are in accord with the offering of priests as they offer Christ to the faithful who eat and drink his Body and Blood.  Thus, we are in a complete continuity of faith.  Thus, we bring glory to the Father, and prove the truth of the Christian faith!

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

Endnotes
[1]  St. John gives us this fact:  “And the Word (God the Son) became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1: 14).
[2] John 6: 33, “For the Bread of God is the one who is descending from heaven and is giving life to the world.”



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