I want to begin with a lesson in architecture. This is from a course on the Eucharist which we studied a few years ago. In that course we learned about the arrangement of the Tabernacle of Moses. The tabernacle was the portable temple of worship for the Jewish people while they wandered the desert. God told them exactly how to design it; and later in history the permanent Temple in Jerusalem was arranged in the same way. This Tabernacle of Moses was meant to remind the Jewish people of what had happened on Mt. Sinai. I hope you don’t get bored. If you do, offer it up, it’s Lent after all.
The Tabernacle of Moses was divided into three courts. First, one would enter the Outer Court of Sacrifice, in this space there was a bronze Altar where sheep and goats and oxen were sacrificed. And next to it there was a bronze laver of water, a bronze basin of water, here the priests would wash before any ceremony could take place. This outer court recalls what had happened at the base of Mt. Sinai. Moses had constructed a bronze altar and the blood of an animal was sprinkled upon it and the people. This bloody sacrifice ratified the covenant bond between God and His people. The Israelites and God became a family, a flesh and blood family.
Second was the Inner Court or the Holy Place. A veil separated the outer court from the inner court. This space contained a Golden Altar of incense, where the smoke of the incense as it rose symbolized the Israelites prayers rising to heaven. There was also a 7 branched Menorah covered in flowers; this represented the Burning Bush that Moses encountered on Mount Sinai. And last there was a Golden Table of the Bread of Presence. This inner court recalls the middle of Mt. Sinai. The golden altar of incense and the Menorah recall the smoke and fire in which God descended upon the mountain. The table of the Bread of Presence recalls the heavenly banquet that Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s two sons and the 70 elders enjoyed in the presence of God. At that banquet they ate bread and drank wine.
And finally the third area was the Holy of Holies. Another veil separated the Holy of Holies from the second inner court. Here was the Ark of the Covenant which contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments, a jar of Manna, and the Rod of Aaron. This area could only be entered by the high priest. To enter the holy of holies was to cross over from earth to heaven. The Holy of Holies recalls the throne of God at the top of the mountain, and the Holy of Holies is where God was now present to his Jewish people.
The Tabernacle of Moses was Mt. Sinai in miniature.
I want to explain a little more about the Altar of the Bread of Presence. On that golden altar every Sabbath the priest would place 12 loaves of bread along with flagons of wine. This was an unbloody sacrifice offered to God reminding the people of their covenantal relationship with God, reminding them of the heavenly banquet that Moses, Aaron, his sons, and the 70 elders enjoyed on Mt. Sinai, where they feasted on bread and wine in God’s presence.
Now the Hebrew word that is translated into the Bread of Presence is sometimes translated into “Bread of the Face.” The Bread of the Presence is the Bread of the Face. This is the bread of the face of God. Now during the first century; Jewish priests had the custom, during Passover, of taking the Bread of Presence (Bread of the Face) out of the inner court and lifting it up to the pilgrims so that the pilgrims could look at the Bread of the Face. And the priest would say, “Behold God’s love for you!” Looking at the bread, the priest would say to the pilgrims, “Behold God’s love for you!” Imagine the Holy Family coming to Jerusalem for Passover and nearing the Temple looking up to see a priest holding up the Bread, the Bread of the Face, and saying “Behold God’s love for you!”
Christian Bible scholars often talk about how the New Testament is hidden and prefigured in the Old Testament, and how the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament. The Eucharist is the fulfillment of the Bread of the Face (Bread of Presence). So maybe when I hold up the Eucharist I should also say, “Behold God’s love for you!” As we know Jesus is present to us in many ways, present in the Word of Scripture, the prayer of the Church where 2 or 3 are gathered in His name, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the sacraments, in the person of the priest, but Jesus is most especially present in the Eucharist, the Sacrament of all sacraments. The whole of Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist, really, truly, and substantially present is our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
The entrance antiphon for the 2nd Sunday of Lent is, “It is your face, O Lord that I seek; hide not your face from me.” Today in our Gospel Peter, James, and John saw our Lord transfigured, all His glory and divinity revealed to them. His face shone like the sun. The apostles saw our Lord’s face revealed in all its glory and divinity. His face was not hidden from them. And the same is true for us today. Every time we come to Mass, the Eucharist is elevated and it’s like the transfiguration for us 2000 years later. We see the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. And the Father says to us, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”
The one Tabernacle of Moses contained earthly bread, only a symbol of the Face of God. Our tabernacle and all the tabernacles of the world contain the Heavenly Bread, which is the real Face of God. A saint once wrote, “The Lord’s Holy Eucharistic Face is a light shining in the darkness, let the beauty capture your soul and fill you with a desire for union with Him.”
It is your face Oh Lord that I seek, hide not your face from me.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley