Sunday, August 06, 2017

Troublesome Tabernacles

Sermon for the Transfiguration of the Lord

Do you really know what a tabernacle is?

If you’re familiar with church furnishings and fittings, you’ll recognise this as the safe-like construction on the Altar which houses the Blessed Sacrament. While we may call this a tabernacle, it has much older origins than this.

Originally, a tabernacle is a tent, a mobile dwelling place for wandering famers and also much like the tents that the Israelites lived in during their time in the wilderness. You may remember that the Lord commands them to observe the “feast of booths” or “feast of tabernacles” in which everyone would leave their houses to spend some time in a tent to remind them of their long journey in the wilderness.

You may also remember that the Lord travels with the Israelites on their journey. For this reason they make a mobile temple also called a tabernacle and which houses the presence of the Lord.
Perhaps you begin to see why the safe containing the Blessed Sacrament is called a tabernacle.

So then what does St Peter mean when he says, “Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me”?

Is He talking about death? Is His tabernacle His body?


It’s tempting to think that especially in an age thinks that when we die we lose our body and become disembodied spirits forevermore. However, Christians believe in the resurrection of the body and this is because when Our Lord appears after His resurrection, it is clear that He is not a ghost – He has a body. Granted that this body can do interesting things such as appearing in locked rooms, it is still a physical body which can do normal things such as eat, breathe and touch.

St Peter isn’t referring to this tabernacle.


Old St Peter is remembering a time when he sees Our Lord transfigured – shining white in true glory, accompanied by the Writer of the Law and the Great Prophet. He remembers that, in his confusion, he asks whether he, James and John should build three tabernacles for these three great revelations of God: His Law, His Prophecy, and His Word which is their source. He also remembers how foolish he was.

Why? The last thing that Elijah, Moses and Our Lord needed are tabernacles: they are demonstrating our existence without tabernacles.


The tabernacle is only the outward appearance of what we see. It is only the skin of our reality. For once, Peter, James and John are witnesses to what lies beneath our superficial understanding of what really is. They are shown that there really is more to each human being than they would know.

This is our trouble, we are so entrenched in believing that all we can see is all that there is that we forget that we are deeper than that. This is like Peter is at first, seeking to contain God so that He can see Him, handle Him, understand Him. But God cannot be contained, but rather bursts through any tabernacle that we build Him. Our Science can never know God: its abilities are far too small, and God is not a thing to study in a laboratory. We get to know Him by shaking off the tabernacle that confines our faith and seek to know Him as One who wants be known as He really is.

The fact that we can know God shows that we have senses that are not physical but spiritual. It is these senses that we need to exercise in order to see Our Lord at work in the world. We wander the world blind to these deeper things, so we should pray like Blind Bartimaeus, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me that I might receive my sight!”


St Peter is an eyewitness to the Majesty of God and now beholds Him outside his tabernacle. If we have faith, we will not make a tabernacle for God with our limited thinking, but rather become eyewitnesses to God’s work in this world. Then, like St Peter, we shall behold God’s majesty now and forever.

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