Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. All the people of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the festival in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests carried the ark. So they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. The poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place in front of the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside; they are there to this day. There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.
Then Solomon said,
‘The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in for ever.’
I was present at the first service in the new building of Whittlesford URC in the Eastern Synod. It was a wonderful occasion. Whilst no sacrifices were made, it was nevertheless a momentous occasion. The sacrifices had been made long before we had reached this point, and at the end of its construction, a ceremony was held to dedicate the building to the glory of God. I have never forgotten it. It was the first thanksgiving service in the URC that I had ever attended (my background being Anglican). There were so many people that it was packed to the rafters, and the music and singing was beautiful. It was the beginning of a new journey with God at the centre of the new congregation.
However, in the midst of the ceremony in the temple on Mount Zion, during the planned and executed ritual of dedication, something interrupts them! It stops the whole ceremony. A cloud filled the house of the Lord and the priests were unable to minister because of the thickness of the cloud. The Lord’s glory fill the building and Solomon reminds the people that the Lord had said that he would dwell in thick darkness.
If we look back at our own lives, God is often to be found in the darkness, in the misery and the desolation. In the lonely places, and in the desert when we feel abandoned. God is not always in the beautiful buildings. He is not confined by bricks and mortar, however beautiful they may be. He is in our hearts and in our minds, waiting for us to call on Him.
Father, so often, when we gather to worship you, we have set an agenda, an order of worship, a prepared meditation; we have come ready and we are following the plan. We feel your Spirit here in our buildings. We know you are with us. In your way, interrupt us. Return us to the simple truth of your Presence here in your call to us to follow you. Open us to you now, O God. Amen.
Ann Barton, Member of Whittlesford URC and retired Church House staff member