Tabernacling with God

Taken from the Deans weekly blog

Over the more than 36 years as a priest I have presided at a great many Eucharists.  When I was in my parish in Leeds, it being a very good solid Anglo-Catholic bastion of a place, we used to have 14 masses a week.  That is a lot of ‘going to the altar of God’ as we would say in the sacristy.  Fortunately I wasn’t working on my own for most of the time, so it was a shared and wonderful ministry to be able to have.  However, though many of them have been significant and deeply powerful occasions – given that every Eucharistic celebration is that – I hadn’t presided at one like the one on Tuesday morning.

It was the morning after the Prime Minister’s speech which introduced the ‘lockdown’.  We knew that we were going to be unable to go into the Cathedral again for the foreseeable future.  In addition, there was a restriction imposed by the CofE on live streaming from churches.  So we decided not to live stream but for just three of us, distanced of course, to celebrate the Eucharist in the Cathedral for the last time before we ‘shut up shop’.  It was heart-breaking.

Although Southwark Cathedral has had a rather chequered ecclesiastical history – I suspect that 18th century religion there left something to be desired – yet for the most part, for most of its 1400 year history the Eucharist will have been celebrated on a daily basis.  There will have been gaps, of course, but nothing like now, nothing like the open-ended exclusion and isolation that we are facing.  So I said the Mass and we received our communion there for the last time until …

We had made the decision that worship would be offered from the Deanery.  Those who have been to the house may remember that we have a nice hall, spacious enough to become a chapel.  Like many clergy I have quite a few ecclesiastical ‘bits and pieces’ around the place – a spare prie-dieu, a large crucifix, a statue or two, candles (of course).  But I decided that what I would do would be to bring the Blessed Sacrament home with me.  So from the rather wonderful Pugin tabernacle in which the sacrament normally resides it is now in my ‘chapel’ and is the focus of our on-line prayers and devotions.


The Deanery Chapel


It’s a new experience for me, tabernacling with the God, who tabernacles with us.  First thing in the morning, last thing at night, greeting Our Lord in the Sacrament, knowing his real presence in the place in an even more real way.  I always feel the presence of God but not always with this intensity.

I am reminded of a wonderful story from the Old Testament.  David has recovered the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines but on the journey back to Jerusalem there is a bit of an accident with it and people became a little unsure of its power and whether it should be brought into the city. So

David did not take the ark into his care into the city of David; he took it instead to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. The ark of God remained with the household of Obed-edom in his house for three months, and the Lord blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that he had. (1 Chronicles 13.13-14)

The powerful presence of God in the household of Oded-edom over this three month period of isolation was a blessing.  David saw it and knew that it was safe to bring the Ark into the city where it would be a blessing in the midst of the people.  It is the same as people wanting Jesus to stay with them.  To Zacchaeus Jesus says

‘I must stay at your house today.’ (Luke 19.5)

and after the encounter with the woman at the well we are told

‘When the Samaritans came to Jesus, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word.’ (John 4.40-41)

With the most unlikely people Jesus stays, in the homes of those shunned by others, behind doors normally locked, Jesus tabernacles.  His presence is always a blessing, just as the presence of the Ark was to Obed-edom and his household.

We don’t, of course, need the sacrament in our house to know that Jesus is present with us – Jesus IS present with us, not isolating himself from us, not distancing himself from us, with us behind our closed doors as much as with us in the now empty streets.

This is the prayer I have written for use from our cathedrals during this lockdown.  I offer it to you. Take care.  Keep safe.

A prayer in lockdown

The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked. (John 20.19)

Ever present God,
be with us in our isolation,
be close to us in our distancing,
be healing in our sickness,
be joy in our sadness,
be light in our darkness,
be wisdom in our confusion,
be all that is familiar when all is unfamiliar,
that when the doors reopen
we may with the zeal of Pentecost
inhabit our communities
and speak of your goodness
to an emerging world.
For Jesus’ sake.

For further reflections by the Dean please visit his Living God blog here