God’s Tent (04-08-22)
A Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 16. 13 - 15
Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.
A Thought You will remember a fortnight ago I talked about my experience of erecting the Messy Church marquee at Groove on the Green and linked it to the tabernacle, which was the first formal place of worship for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness.
There has been a growing interest in worship outside and recently this has gained even more momentum thanks to Covid restrictions. As a worship trainer, I have been considering whether this is just the latest fad or whether it has some biblical merit. A month or so ago, I came across some interesting worship in Newcastle Diocese, which was certainly initiated by lockdown and Covid restrictions, but which is now proving an interesting way to plant and grow a new congregation.
God’s tent began its life in a parish on Hadrian’s wall. A large bell tent became the focus of worship, enabling people to meet outdoors when Covid restrictions lifted. This led to all kinds of creative thinking across several parishes. What church furniture is needed to have a recognizable Communion Service? How can a fresh appreciation of creation and the environment in which the tent is pitched affect the worship? The tent has been set up in a garden, in woodland, on the moors, in a church yard. Using the same principle, one imaginative vicar built an igloo with his children during a particularly snowy week in Northumbria and livestreamed communion from it during lockdown, using a block of compacted snow for the communion table. Latest fad or something of significance?
The Levites spent much time in the wilderness putting up and dismantling the tabernacle/tent. When God moved the Israelites on the tent came down. When God told them to stop, the tent went back up. This meant that worship of the one true God was always central and always a priority. Later, long after the Exodus, at the Festival of Sukkot, the building of makeshift booths was a part of the ritual to help the people remember how God had delivered them from the slavery of Egypt and had faithfully led them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. As one of three pilgrim festivals, this was a time when people brought their tithes and offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. Thousand upon thousands of people would come together, all living in temporary shelters or booths. It was an opportunity to celebrate as whole families and give thanks for the harvest and God’s provision.
Whether we gather in the church building or whether we experiment with Forest Church outside (see 3 September in the Pocket Park, Walgrave at 11 am), let us all make worship a priority. It may cost us time and effort, but it will bring us a fresh appreciation of our great God who is worth of our thanks and praise and also the wonderful church family to which we belong here in the Walgrave Benefice.
A Prayer Almighty God, may you always be at the centre of our lives. Let us come before you as the whole family of God in this place to celebrate together with thanksgiving and joy Amen.
Easter in a garden live-streamed during the Covid lockdown
Igloo Eucharist during Lockdown