We have been meditating on the Tabernacle (and later Temple) in this line from Psalm 26: “Lord, I love the dwelling place of your house, and the place of the tabernacle of your glory.” This week let us consider the Glory that abides there.
The Psalms often proclaim the glory of God, and even say that it is our glory. Let us consider what it means to meet this glory in the Temple.
(Let me acknowledge that I have before me notes from a lecture Saturday night by Fr. John Saward on poverty and liturgical beauty.)
First of all, as we have considered before, the Hebrew word for glory refers to weight, dignity, and Magnificence. To speak of God’s glory is to say that he is awesome, awe-inspiring.
At the heart of worship is wonder, admiration, adoration. To discover how amazing God is.
Our acknowledgement of his magnificence, including the magnificence of our worship, indicates the purity of our love. We acknowledge him as the greatest, the highest, the best, as needing nothing from us – and then we offer him our greatest, our highest, our best, as a way of saying that he is worth giving everything for.
And in our discovery of God’s wealth, we acknowledge that he is the source of our wealth. Everything good we have comes from him, and should return to him. But so too, everything good we have is worth nothing compared to him. We lift it all up in worship, and acknowledge him as the most high.
A second meaning of glory, perhaps more directly present in the Greek and Latin translations, but central to the greater theology of the Psalms, is Beauty.
It is important to add this element to our understanding of God’s magnificence. God is not just a big will, not just crass power. He is wealth, yes, and awesomeness, and power.
But even deeper, he is beauty. This is important when the Psalms say, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19:1). The heavens – and the earth, and everything that is made – shows not only that God is powerful, but that he is wise, and good, and that he sets things in order. He has a plan, and not just a will.
I have commented before that “thy will be done” can run afoul if not connected to “thy kingdom come.” For God to be king is for God to make everything right – and beautiful.
And so too the worship offered in the Tabernacle and the Temple is not only awesome, but exquisite, lovely, well-ordered, beautiful.
And what God gives to his saints is not just power, but beauty, the radiance of being fully alive.
One way to understand that beauty is through a third word connected with “glory,” Light.
“In your light we shall see light” (Ps 36:9). This moves in two directions. God himself is the light, like the sun, shining with glory. He is dazzling. The sun itself bespeaks both magnificence and glory.
But to understand light, we have to turn downward, too, to that which light illumines. Light allows us to see truth. Darkness – such an important metaphor in the Bible, especially in the New Testament – is about hiding. Darkness is where you go when you don’t want the true nature of your actions to be shown.
(God, too, sometimes is hidden – but only as the sun dazzles our eyes by its brightness.)
Light is the place of revelation, where our actions are shown, and where the things we act upon are shown. To live relationships in the light is for ourselves to be seen, to see truly who our neighbor is, and to see truly what that relationship is meant to be. It is to see clearly, too, sin, and the way it mars reality.
To speak of God’s glory in this way is to speak of him as the truth itself. It calls us to rise back up and look at him, dazzling light itself, as the revealer.
This is what we do, for example, when we dwell on Scripture. (Fr. Saward said the melismata of chant buzz around the sacred word like bees, sucking the sweetness of God’s revelation. As does all true sacred art.) We discover the truth that it reveals, and we discover that God is Truth itself: the revealer, the maker of that which is revealed, the beautiful and magnificent artificer of beautiful and magnificent things.
The Psalmist finds this glory both in nature and in the liturgy. We discover God’s beauty in all his works, and we turn to express it, in (the list is Fr. Saward’s) our chant, our ceremonial, our iconography, and our architecture.
Where could we better express the beauty of Jesus and his kingdom?