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Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. 

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob. Look on our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. 

Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.

As a teenager I went to visit Paris with my mom as part of a bigger trip she did with each of her kids when we turned 16. While there we toured and visited a few old churches and cathedrals; we visited Notre-Dame de Paris, an iconic cathedral from the 1200’s with two instantly recognizable giant towers on the west façade, with a beautifully reconstructed spire built in the 19th century in the gothic style of the original (which had collapsed centuries before under its own weight). Each corner of the spire base, where it meets the roof, has 3 of the twelve apostles immortalized in copper statues – each looking out over the city of Paris, except for Thomas, who is the patron saint of architects, he looks up admiring the spire; in addition to the statues each corner has an copper creature to symbolize the four canonical gospels: the bull for Luke, lion for Mark, eagle for John, and the angel for Matthew. I will never forget the height of the flying buttresses sweeping up the outside of the structure and holding up the rib-vaults of the ceiling in the nave and in the apse. All that is to say nothing of the arresting beauty of the three magnificent rose windows – each a masterpiece of stained-glass work and storytelling… and when the light passes through, it is breathtaking.

I am truly grateful that I got to witness that in the flesh – even if I didn’t fully appreciate it as a 16-year-old. Especially since so many of those treasures were destroyed or are now in need of repair after the tragic fire in April of 2019. Thankfully, the spire itself, along with the statues, and windows, were spared too much damage and will be restored.

Since then, I have visited a number of beautiful and ancient churches: from the more modern Sacre-Coeur Basilica (constructed in Paris at the end of the 19th century); to the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal (that parish was founded in 1657, and the current church – the 2nd on the site – broke ground in 1824 but was not completed until 1879); all the way to 12th century crusader church of Saint Anne in Jerusalem, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (also called the Church of the Anastasis by the Eastern Orthodox Church) during Eastern Orthodox Holy Week – this church is on the traditional site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, and has been a pilgrimage site since the 4th century. Not to be forgotten I have also visited historic Protestant churches: though less ornate but beautiful for its history, I will always remember worshiping at the  English Reformed Church in Amsterdam, built in 1607 and adorned with the rolls of serving elders dating all the way back to the first presbytery; or listening to an organ concert while visiting Christ Church in Boston, established in 1723 and were Paul Revere was once the Bell Ringer (this church is famous for being the location where, on April 18 1775, two lanterns were lit to indicate that the British were moving by sea during the American War of Independence).

And yet, not one of these places – for all their beauty, venerated majesty, and historical significance – have I wanted to live in. So, every time I read Psalm 84, I am left struggling with a question: why not? Shouldn’t I want to dwell in the house of the Lord? Shouldn’t I agree, “how lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!” How lovely indeed? 

Now, to be clear, according to the superscription (the little writing before the poem) Psalm 84 is written by and for the Sons of Korah. From ignoble beginnings (cf. Num. 16) the descendants of Korah become threshold keepers for the Tent of the Lord and doorkeepers at the gates by the time of David (cf. 1 Chron. 9:17-34). We are told that a group of Korahites joined up with David in his revolts against Saul and gained some renown as warriors (1 Chron. 12:6). And during the time of David’s reign the Korahites became leaders in the choral chanting and music of the tabernacle. These wayward rebels, became warriors, became worship leaders, serving in the tabernacle and then the temple.

With that trajectory it is perhaps little wonder how they could sing, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” But I am left still wondering: what does it mean for me? And so, to answer that question we need to ask, what roll/purpose did the temple play for the Sons of Korah and the people of Israel? The Tabernacle, and afterwards the Temple, as a microcosmic mirror of the Garden of Eden in the whole of creation before the Fall, was the place where God resided with his people. His glory descended upon the Holy Seat above the Ark of the Covenant within Holy of Holies, and God was with his people. While God, who is Spirit, was not contained to only the Temple, his presence with his people is symbolized by the temple as the dwelling place of God; but don’t mistake that to mean the temple is a mere symbol. There is something definite and real about the presence of God for worship and in the midst of his people gathered around him.

I think it is both in the symbolic and the concrete sense that the Sons of Korah understood their being with God, and he with them, in the presence of the temple. Over the course of time this takes on an even finer point in the person of Jesus. In the New Testament, and especially the gospels of Matthew and John, Jesus is revealed as the fulfillment of Old Testament themes of temple (Matthew 12:6; John 2:21; & Heb. 8:5-6). As the gospel of John opens, “We have seen the glory of the One and Only Son come from the Father full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), he is the revelation of God’s glory – the Immanuel, “God with us.” In theological terms, he is the God-Man: fully human and fully divine. 

And so, being in the dwelling place of God now means being in the presence of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Further, in the New Testament Paul calls believers “temples of the Holy Spirit.” Part of what that means for us is that we who believe, having received the gift of faith, having also received the Holy Spirit, are now temples of God’s presence (1 Cor. 6:19). As we are being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, as our lives are being brought into submission to Christ, we also are revealing Jesus and mediating the presence of God to the world. I’ve said in the past, “In Jesus God gets a face; and in us Jesus is made real.”

Just like the temple conveys the symbolic and concrete presence of God in the Old Testament, and just like Jesus is presence of God and the revelation of his glory in the world, now the Church mediates the presence of God to the world and the church experiences the special sacral presence of God while she gathers in worship (Mt. 18:20) hearing the Word and partaking in the sacraments; and so, neither is what we do together a mere symbol. 

What this means, I am learning and processing, is not that I should want to live in a church – no matter how ornate and sacred the space may be. Instead, I want my heart to be the dwelling place of God – and more and more each day; I want to gather in worship with those who want the same and are experiencing God’s presence by faith through the Holy Spirit in the Word and through the sacraments. I want to be places where those people are! That is the New Testament priority of Psalm 84.

In that way it really is true that “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere…” It really is a blessing to be doorkeeper in the house of the Lord because by being near to God’s people in worship I really am nearer to God. 

Finally, just as Jesus is the true and better fulfilment of the themes of tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament; so to is he the only one who ushers us in to the presence of God. Verse 9 says, “look with favor on your anointed one.” The Hebrew word, “anointed one” is “Messiah.” The Resurrected Jesus is the anointed one, raised as King of Kings to the right hand of God the Father Almighty. And as the Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully says, “I am called a Christian because I share in his anointing.” (HC, Q&A, 32) And so together, we confess his name; together we offer ourselves as living sacrifices; together we strive against sin and the devil; and together we will reign with Christ for all eternity.

Now I see that it really is blessed to dwell in the house of the Lord.

Dear Lord, help me to long for your presence. Help me to be your presence in a world that thinks it can thrive absent of you. In all, may the eyes of my heart be transfixed by Jesus, even as I am transformed into his image. Finally, help me to count the blessing of being part of a body of believers who worship you and experience your presence. In Jesus’ name, Amen!