God Among Us: A Christian Understanding of the Presence of God in Light of the Destruction of the Temple

I remember when I lived in Israel visiting the Wailing Wall, a wall in the city of Jerusalem that surrounded the Temple complex during the time of Jesus. It is commonly called the “Wailing Wall” because Jews visit the site in order to mourn the loss of the Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Why would the loss of their Temple result in mourning? Among other reasons, the Temple, and its prototype the Tabernacle, was the dwelling place of God according to the Old Testament. The Lord’s very presence lived in the Ark of the Covenant, housed inside of the Tabernacle in the days of Moses and later in the Temple located in the City of Jerusalem. Thus, the loss of the Temple meant the loss of God’s presence among the people of Israel.

Since the destruction of the Temple, one may be tempted to ask: does God no longer dwell among us? The Christian response to this question is that He does still dwell among us, just in a different way. The Lord literally tabernacled (John 1:14) among us in the womb of Mary. In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the presence of God, also contained a jar of Manna, the bread that came down from heaven in the wilderness, the Ten Commandments written on stone and Aaron’s staff that budded, a sign of the Old Testament Priesthood (Hebrews 9:4). The Ark of the Covenant was a forshadowing of Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant, who contained within her womb the new manna, Living Bread that came down from heaven (John 6:51), the living Word of God Who is the embodiment of the Ten Commandments, and the eternal High Priest of Israel, the fulfillment of the Old Testament Priesthood! For this reason, it is clear that that Christ is the true fulfillment of the Temple.

Yet we know that Christ’s body ascended into Heaven (Acts 1:9-11) so should we, like the Jews, mourn the loss of the presence of God? God forbid! It is true that Jesus ascended into heaven but this does not mean He no longer dwells among us. God’s presence is still among us in the Eucharist! It is in the Eucharist that we experience not only the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary but also the incarnation itself. When a validly ordained priest in the mass invokes the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, the Holy Spirit does so and the incarnation is made present among us, just as the Spirit made Him present among us in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Furthermore, after mass Jesus remains among us reserved in the Tabernacle, the new Tabernacle/Temple of the Jews.

Since it is clear God is still among us, how should we respond to this great gift? Not as the Jews who mourn the departure of God’s presence in the Temple, but as Christians who celebrate the presence of God in the Eucharist. Let us pray that both Christians and the Jews recognize His presence for the glory of God the Father.

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