The Gospel in Art
Hebrews 8 v 5: “They (the priests) serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in Heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the Tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (NIV)
Many of us have tried to define and identify what the NEO actually is, but no one so far as I am aware has yet succeeded. I find this comforting. If our work could be analysed efficiently I doubt there would be much of God in it. For “great is the mystery of godliness.” However, as we look back over the perceived blessings of many years, we cannot resist the question: what is it that caused such an observable impact on individuals? I believe the answer is hidden in the first sentence of the Hebrews quotation above, which refers to what the King James version calls the Tabernacle, i.e. the Tent. It is fascinating to note that this Tabernacle can be regarded as an expression of the Gospel in artistic terms: sculpture, colours, materials, design, architecture etc. Like all art, it is tangible, visible, definable on one level, yet is in fact merely a shadow or copy of the ultimate reality which exists in another sphere. It is a kind of code. As we meditate upon it, we can occasionally catch a glimpse of the reality which it illustrates, just as a flash of lightning illuminates a landscape on a dark night for a millisecond, we will occasionally have the privilege of glimpsing heavenly realities, spiritual things, which go beyond words, beyond human conception, wonders which cannot be spoken. When such things happen, they seem to penetrate to the very core of a person’s being. So I believe it to be with the NEO. Because we are believers, we are the body of Christ, the modern day Tabernacle or Temple where God dwells - or at least a portion of it. As we perform, as we walk out of a Recreatio singing ‘Be still and know that I am God’, I guess that just for an instant, individuals all over the building are, by God’s grace, catching glimpses of the true body of Christ, the heavenly reality of which we are a part. They are seeing “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
It’s so important, especially at a time like this, that we are continually considering our NEO mission: what we are doing and why we are doing it, in the light of God’s word. In this context, I’d like to submit a few more thoughts on the Tabernacle. Incidentally, you may be interested in C W Slemmings’ statistics: there are fifty chapters in the Bible which deal with this subject.
Exodus 13 chapters
Leviticus 18 chapters
Numbers 13 chapters
Deuteronomy 2 chapters
Hebrews 4 chapters
So in the Biblical scheme of things, it’s hard to over-estimate its importance.
The Gospel in Art - Part Two
The Holy Place was one of activity. This in itself is worthy of consideration, particularly in the light of NEO. I think there would be those out there who might say that there is very little intrinsic spiritual value in hours and days of detailed rehearsal, memorizing musical parts, string bowings, laying out chairs, librarianship, conducting, cooking and serving meals, van-driving etc. etc. All these are things that the world does. Wouldn’t it be better as an evangelical project, simply to get a really good evangelist and hold meetings? Sing a few hymns, and just concentrate on the word of God? Keep it simple?
And I suppose God could have said: Let’s keep the Tabernacle simple. Build it according to my pattern, and yes, I will come and dwell there. All you have to do is step inside, sit there in my presence and I will bless you. But no. There was activity - sometimes of a seemingly very earthy nature, as exemplified by the tools specified: things like shovels, flesh-hooks, basins, wash stands, tongs, pans, dishes etc. - tools for ordinary jobs that might be done outside the holy place anywhere else in the world. But somehow it was in the performance of these jobs, in the very doing of them, that the Lord made himself known. Of course the priests were acting in obedience to the Lord and handling his things, but that’s exactly what we are doing also in the NEO. As we go about our tasks in as holy a way as we can, the Lord shows himself to us and others. People come, join themselves to us for a period, perhaps even just shifting chairs, helping on the CD desk, yet while they go about their business, God meets them and blesses them and reaches out through us all to a needy world.
Here we might even consider the offering in Leviticus Chapter 2 which is about cooking! Highly symbolic of course. It deals with the texture of the cake mix. In other words, God is not just interested in the final product: the cake, the concert, the mission, whether it achieves its purpose, is nourishing etc. He is interested in the actual texture, constituents and their blend. This is what he accepts and what draws outsiders in and fascinates them: the ingredients, the texture and the blend. But without the seemingly mundane activities, this blend only exists on a theoretical level. Love remains an academic idea. And we all know the secondary meaning of the word academic!
Later, we’ll look at some of the tools themselves!
If you have never read about this subject before, or thought about it, you could refer to begin with, to Exodus chapter 25 and following, then Exodus chapter 3 and following.