I can remember as I was growing up in the church, the altar at the front of the building. It’s still there in many Salvation Army corps, and we call it the Mercy Seat. As young children we were taught that this was a very holy place and we were not to touch it if we were not there to pray. We were not to dare sit on it, allow things to fall on it, or run around it because it was a sacred space.
What this kind of teaching did for me, was to make me afraid of the space in a way. If it was misused, my fear was that God was going to strike me down in some way.
I’ve grown since then, and I understand the significance of the Mercy Seat in the lives of many. I can respect that it can be a very sacred space where people meet the very real presence of God. I also remember though, that when all is said and done it’s still just a piece of wood at the front of a chapel. (Though I do still cringe if I see someone using it as a seat).
People meet with the Lord at the Mercy Seat; people can also meet with him at their bedside, kitchen table, in the car, on a walk, or wherever we find ourselves from day to day.
God is accessible anywhere and anytime through Jesus Christ.
The fact that God is accessible anywhere was a very important truth for John’s audience. The gospels were written after the temple had been destroyed and was lying in ruins. If a person had grown up being taught that the very presence of God could only be found in the temple, then it stands to reason they would wonder how they would be able to experience his presence again now that the temple has been ruined.
Right at the outset of his gospel in the story of Jesus cleansing the temple, John offers a word of hope to his readers reminding them that the presence of God is not out of reach, but indeed can be found in Jesus.
So we who are so far removed from that time, can also find the presence of God in the living Christ. (I know I said living Christ before the Lenten season is over, that’s what happens when you know how the story turns out).