The Sparrow and the Swallow in the Temple

Psalm 84:1 – 3 (LXX 83: 1 – 4) reads,

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young at your altars.”

Regarding the sparrow and the swallow, the Psalmist’s observation may be taken as a side observation, taken at a glance and to be dismissed by those with the more serious mind of faith. This would prove to be an error. This “off hand” verse comes from the eye of informed, mature, and loving faith.

Note that the removal of the birds, messy as they may be, is not called for by him, or those serving in the Temple. Their darting, fluttering, and joyful presence of flight and song is welcome. It is understood they have a place in the presence, service, worship, and praise of God in the Temple setting. They are welcome to participate in the worship and service of God as they offer it! (“Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise” verse 4).  We find this in Revelation: “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!’” (Rev 5: 13).

The sparrow and swallow can have there place in the Temple, because they have a place in Christ as offered to them by his Incarnation:

Having declared to us mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he put forth in him [Christ], for the purpose of the fulness of time, to gather together all things in Christ, those things in heaven and those things on earth (Eph 1: 9, 10).

St. Paul informs us that all things, ALL things, are gathered together in a relational union in Christ. All things are contained within the God-man. Not one thing of creation is excluded. St. Paul introduces here the concept of microcosm. He expresses this profound concepth differently in his letter to the Colossians:

And he is before all things, and all things are held together in proper order in him…because in him all the fulness (to pleroma) was pleased to dwell (Col 1: 17, 19).

To pleroma refers to the full cargo of a commercial ship. As oils, grains, timbers, and other materials were packed fully into the ship, so, too, everything is packed fully into Christ where they are held in relationship and union of being. Nothing is excluded, not even animal life. All is held in Christ in its proper order — as is appropriate for their species. In the Temple, the sparrow and swallow offered their praise and worship not as humans, for they are not humans. Yet, they had their place — though we may not comprehend it — and it was not to be dismissed.

I come to a question to be asked. Does the animal have an afterlife? I do not want to put forward an easy answer, and definitely not one that nicely fits into “fluffy” human sentiment. We as humans have as our hope “the life of the world to come”, i.e., the resurrection of the dead. Yet who can comprehend this great mystery set forth for us? I can not put forward an easy answer for the bird, the dog, the cat, the elephant, and the bison to name just a few of God’s magnificent creatures. However, they too are held in Christ, and to be in Christ is to be held within his life. All I can state is that they too have a share in this life of Christ — it is their’s in a manner that is proper for their species, and will be so experienced by them. This too is a great mystery.

With this in mind we are to treat all animal life with dignity, kindness and love with thanksgiving. For they have a share in Christ as we do, but as is appropriate for their species. In their own manner they too praise, glorify, and worship our one Creator. May we thus move ourselves into a proper understanding of animal welfare that corresponds fully to our Christian faith.

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s