Exodus 25

‘God said: ‘above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark, I will meet with you’
- Exodus 25:22

Brothers and sisters, what makes a strong relationship? Think about friendships, romantic partnerships, and successful family relationships which have lasted. What made them successful? What made them last whilst other similar relationships failed? What makes the difference—I believe—is being with each other in good times and bad. Sometimes people talk to priests when someone they love is going through a difficult time and they’re worried because they don't know what to say. I think they’re hoping that I will give them the right words to say that will help their loved one as they go through their time of darkness. However, what I usually advise is just to be there… you don’t need to say anything. Oftentimes people don’t want you to say anything—they are not ready for talking—they just need you to be there. Actually, it works in a similar way on happy days too whether a wedding, a birthday, or a baptism. Words often aren’t the most important witness of your love; it’s being there with them which makes the biggest difference. Being there matters!

We’re over half-way through our second study in the Book of Exodus. We’ve been journeying with God’s people from the Red Sea to the Promised land; and for the past three weeks we’ve been at the Holy Mountain, Mount Sinai. We’ve seen—both in this study and in last year’s study of the first chapters of Exodus—God being with His people in amazing ways. God was visibly present in the Burning Bush of Exodus 3, in the darkness which covered the land in Exodus 12, in pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night in Exodus 13-15. Now the people are encamped around God’s mountain and God is visibly present in the form of a storm at the top of the mountain. If anyone asked in Exodus 3 to Exodus 25 ‘Where is God?’, someone would be able to point Him out: He’s there in the bush, there in the darkness, there in the pillars of cloud and fire, there in the storm at the top of the mountain. Yes, God has been with His people in good times and bad. However, now a new chapter for God’s people is about to begin, as they journey through the desert to the Promised Land. The great rescue from slavery has taken place, the armies of the enemy have been defeated, and things are now, thankfully, starting to settle down. The times of burning bushes, darkness and storms, pillars of cloud and fire have come to an end. And, whilst the journey continues, something like normal life is starting to exist. Sure, they haven’t arrived home just yet, however, life is becoming more regular. Each day they pack their tents, eat the bread and water God provides, and continue on their journey until it comes time to pitch their tents again. There are no longer—thank the Lord—enemies pursuing them, plagues breaking out around them or slavery oppressing them and with this new phase of life God’s presence with His people changes too. Look with me at our Old Testament reading from Exodus 25. 'God said ‘Let them make an ark of acacia wood – two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.’ God then gives His people lots of details about how to decorate the ark before He ends with: ‘Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you’. Last week we had the giving of the Law which taught God’s people how to flourish. These laws were inscribed by God on to two stone tablets. These tablets would be placed in the ark, but way more important even than what was in the ark was who was on top of the ark. ‘[God says]: There, above the cover between the two cherubim…I will meet with you’. Yes, the storm on the top of the mountain will disappear. Yes, the burning bush has long since been left behind. Yes the pillars of cloud and fire will disappear, but God will never leave His people. It is easy to imagine as the people journeyed on day after day month after month year after year that questions would start to be asked. Maybe it would be when sickness came. Maybe it would be when the elderly died. Maybe it would be when arguments broke out. Maybe it would simply be because the journey was taking such a long time that people would cry out: ‘Where is God!?’ When these inevitable and understandable questions came Moses would be able to point to the ark and say ‘Here is God’. The ark would be carried leading the people by day and at night the ark would have its own tent, God would have His own tent, which would be pitched in the middle of the people. When sickness, or death, or arguments broke out on the long, long journey to the Promised Land, God would dwell, God would camp, God would be with His people.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been camping now-a-days it seems that people are a bit more into ‘glamping’; more comfortable I guess! But when I was younger I’d go camping, including with the Scouts. Each group would have their own tent, but in the centre—of whichever Scout Camp we went to—would be the Meeting Tent. It’s the place where we ate, had talks and sang songs when it was wet and out the front of the Meeting Tent we would have our camp fire. The Meeting Tent was our home-away-from-home whilst we were on Scout Camp; and I have some great memories of time spent there. Something like that happened for the Hebrew people. God was with them, God camped with them, and God met with them, each and every day. Sure, they didn’t have the amazing miracles of burning bushes and pillars of fire, but that didn’t mean that God was absent! Quite the opposite. God didn’t leave them for a second, His presence was seen in the ark leading the way and in the tent put up in the middle of His people. God was with His people! Friends, during our Christian lives there will almost certainly be times when we ask the same question as the Hebrew people: ’Where is God?’ It may well will be at similar times to the people walking through the desert. When sickness hits, when death arrives for a loved one, when arguments break out and relationships end, and when our journey of faith seems to be taking forever! Just as with His people back then, so today, God is with His people and in the final section of this sermon I want to show you where He is. 

You’ll know, most likely, our Gospel reading, we always read it at Christmas time. It’s about God the Son coming to earth that first Christmas as the baby Jesus. We’re told: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’. The word ‘dwelling’ is a tricky one to interpret, and now-a-days we don’t use it much, but it means He ‘pitched His tent amongst us’. This verse—in trying to explain what God was doing that first Christmas—looks back to the Exodus journey when God had a tent in the centre of the people. That first Christmas when God came as a human being it was like once again He pitched His tent in the centre of His people. The ark had long since been lost when the Hebrew people turned their back on God but now God was once again coming to be with, to pitch His tent with, to physically live with, His people. When Christians asked ‘Where is God?’, Jesus’ disciples could point to Jesus and say ‘There He is, God is with His people’. We’ve moved closer to the present day, but what about now?. Where is God now? And the answer—as many of you will know from Pentecost—is now God lives inside every person who believes. Amazingly, the God who lived on the ark, the God who came to earth as Jesus, today camps in every Christian heart! ‘Where is God?’… in here! Sometimes we think it would be nice if He were a burning bush again, or a pillar of fire, or, perhaps, if He would write His name in the sky; but God is so much closer than that, He is right here with us. Wherever we go, whatever we go through, God is always with us; He will never leave us, He will never forsake us. God has pitched His tent in our hearts so that we will never be alone. Sometimes, I know, we want to see Him, we want to touch Him, especially when life is darkest we need additional help, additional reminders. The Exodus people needed that too, and at the end of our first reading God provides them with this additional help. ‘Make a table of acacia wood […] Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times.’ God reminds them of His presence with them by having some of the bread He provides for them in front of them as a reminder. God does this too today, though He is even more generous with us. God once again provides the Bread of the Presence, but this time giving His very self for us to eat, to touch, to taste. God gives us His Presence in the Eucharist, in the bread and wine we’re about to eat. This is how He strengthens us for difficult times. This is how He reminds us that He is always there for us. This is how He feed us for the journey and prepares us for what will come. Friends, God wasn’t leaving the people when He stopped appearing as a storm, God’s people didn’t leave Him when the burning bush and God’s mountain were behind them. God went with them on the ark, and He pitched His tent amongst them as they slept. God never abandoned them, wherever their journey took them during the many years to get to the Promised Land. The same is true for us today. God came in Jesus, God comes in His Spirit, and God provides His Presence on the altar at Communion. ‘Where is God?’… He is camping amongst us today and He will never leave us, He will never forsake us. Amen (from Fr Mike).