Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Shekinah

 Dear Friends,

In 2011, the tenth anniversary of the Muslim terrorist attack on the Twin Towers was on a Sunday, and I led our church in an extended time of prayer for those who had lost family and friends. We were reminded of our grief during those terrifying moments when the planes had been flown into the buildings and  in the horrifying images of the people falling to their death down the side of the building. It seemed as if we had been constantly praying for disaster survivors or the families of victims that year. In the springtime, an earthquake and tsunami in Japan killed a staggering 15,800 people and, shortly thereafter, over 300 tornados blasted through the mid-West. One had narrowly missed where my mom lived in Branson, Missouri and that night another destroyed the nearby city of Joplin, killing 161 people. The United Nations had just reported that the drought and famine in Africa had killed over 30,000 children so far that year. 

All year I had been encouraging our church to pray for those affected by the disasters and, at the same time, I was feeling  overwhelmed by what felt like an onslaught of events bringing suffering and death to so many. To make things worse for me, I was just feeling spiritually dry – my own prayers had felt shallow and ineffective. The prayer warrior in me was getting tired of the constant battle and I just felt tired and worn out – like some of us do today. Then God showed up. 

I was in my study that Monday morning working on a sermon while my dog Elysee (R.I.P.) slept beside my chair. I turned and saw that the morning sun had streamed through the window where a red, stained-glass cross hangs. It was as if God was saying to me, “I’m here with you” and I immediately felt as if the presence of God and His glory filled my house. 

It was what the ancient rabbinic teachings described as the “Shekinah” – the majestic presence or divine manifestation of God which has descended to dwell among men. While the Hebrew word Shekinah does not appear in our Bible, the concept of Shekinah is throughout: When Solomon finished praying, fire flashed down from heaven and burned up the burnt offerings and sacrifices, and the glorious presence of the LORD filled the Temple. The priests could not enter the Temple of the LORD because the glorious presence of the LORD filled it. When all the people of Israel saw the fire coming down and the glorious presence of the LORD filling the Temple, they fell face down on the ground and worshiped and praised the LORD, saying, ‘He is good! His faithful love endures forever!’ 2 Chronicles 7:1 NLT

The word Shekinah is used to describe God’s illuminating and light-filled presence into a place that may not even be where you’d expect Him to be. It’s when God shows up unexpectedly in your personal life to encourage or affirm. It’s when in the midst of spiritual emptiness.. when it feels like all hell is breaking loose on earth.. when our prayers are worn and tired, the shadow of the cross glows in a dazzling, brilliant square of sunlight on the carpet in your study, and God says, “I’m here with you.”

The Old Testament tells us that the Jews returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonian captivity to  find that King Solomon’s temple, where they had worshiped for 500 years, had been destroyed. The Persian king had conquered Babylonian, and given the Jews special permission to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. Their hope for a renewed civilization on their native soil was at an all time high. They worked hard to rebuild that once magnificent temple but the riches and splendor, available when the original temple was built, were no longer there. Haggai 2:3 The story continues in the ancient rabbinic writings: When the Jews saw their restored temple they wept in despair. The floors that once glowed with a gold-leaf overlay were now plain stone. The once glorious temple had lost its majestic opulence. As they wept, a dazzling, light-resplendent Presence descended. The Shekinah – God’s personal presence – filled their new humble, modest temple with glory. The people knew they were home and in God’s presence once again. The Shekinah light faded out, but God’s glory stayed behind.

We need the Hebrew concept of the Shekinah to remind us that in the middle of our humble, modest, disorganized, cluttered, busy and exhausting life, God shows up. He is there in the suffering, in the emergency room, the ICU and is at the side of the dying in the nursing home. In the magnificent temple, the well-worn church building, the small, cramped apartment and in the back alley, God manifests His presence. In the places where we would least expect God to be, He says, “Here I am.” And, in our own times of despair, spiritual emptiness, fears about the coronavirus and political unrest, God reminds us that He has been there with us all along. Throughout our Bible, whenever the glory of God’s presence filled a place, the people lifted up their hands in praise or fell face down praising and worshiping Him. There is nothing other that we can do in His presence but to give Him our praise for “He is good! His faithful love endures forever!”  Amen?

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