Reredos, The Temple Church, London by Christopher Wren

Christopher Wren

Reredos, The Temple Church, London, Church built 12th century; interior 17th/18th century, Architecture, London, UK, Photo: Christopher Christodoulou

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The Blood that Intercedes

Commentary by

The design of the Tent of Meeting (or Tabernacle) and its implements was shown to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 25:9, 40; 26:30). The Letter to the Hebrews invokes this event too (8:5). The Ark of the Covenant was chief among the ritual artefacts that Moses made in obedience to God’s instructions.

Once the Tent had finally been dismantled, the Ark was unlike any other structure on earth: it realized at first hand a heavenly prototype.

In Judaism the court of heaven was the home of God and of his indefeasible purposes. Once the Temple was built, there was one fixed point of almost perfect intersection between the divine and human worlds, eternity and time, heaven and earth: the Temple’s Holy of Holies. It was a perfect cube.

Ever since the Babylonians sacked the Temple in 586 BCE, the Holy of Holies lay empty; only a low platform marked the spot where the Ark of the Covenant had once stood. To pass from the blazing sunlight of Jerusalem into this windowless sanctuary was to pass through two vast, double veils. One of them was decorated with the sun, planets, and stars on a dark blue background; to pass through it was indeed to pass through the heavens to God’s throne-room beyond. The High Priest alone came in here, and only on the Day of Atonement.

The High Priest entered three times: first with a tray of burning incense; then with the blood of a bullock; finally with the blood of a goat. He sprinkled the blood on the front of the platform, to atone for the pollution with which the sins of the priests and the sins of the people had infected the Temple over the preceding year. As the Holy of Holies represented heaven, so the Temple as a whole represented, in microcosm, the whole earth. On the Day of Atonement, in this one building, the whole of creation was cleansed and re-purified.

When I celebrate the Eucharist in Wren’s sanctuary, I am in a new Holy of Holies; as is every celebrant of every Eucharist in the Christian world.